You Can Do Better, Senator Brown

I learned last week that Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is floating the idea of stopping EPA’s work to reduce carbon dioxide pollution for at least one year.

To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I have known and admired Senator Sherrod Brown for years, and I respect his track record on defending the environment.

Sherrod’s consideration of undermining the EPA’s ability to keep our air free from pollution doesn’t jibe with his past positions or with what’s good for Ohio’s economy and for its residents’ health.

And it certainly doesn’t match up with what I know of Sherrod Brown’s leadership.

I first met Senator Brown when he was in the House and I worked for another member of the Ohio delegation. Both members served on the Energy and Commerce Committee. During the long committee hearings, members often left to attend other events, but Hill staffers had to stick around to listen. Staffers aren’t allowed to speak at committee meetings—only members can—so when we would hear witnesses making inaccurate statements or exaggerating the facts, we felt powerless to correct the record.

That was until we realized we could turn to Sherrod Brown. He was one of the few members who would sit through the bulk of hearings, and we could always trust him to correct the record when the speaker was off the mark, we could count on him to challenge falsehoods—especially when it came to environmental issues.

More recently, Senator Brown has been a supporter of clean energy—something that has been very good for Ohio. In fact, Ohio is the best in the Midwest when it comes to green job growth. Toledo and Cleveland have led the way by transforming struggling auto-parts factories into manufacturing centers of solar panels, wind turbines, and advanced batteries.

These opportunities led Senator Brown to play an active roll drafting comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that would have cut global warming pollution and brought as much as $5.6 billion in investment revenue and 67,000 new jobs to Ohio.

Unfortunately, that legislation never made it to the floor. So why would Brown want to put put on hold the only chance we have right now for cutting carbon dioxide pollution?  The only thing likely to be different a year from now is that one more year of pollutants will be in our air and businesses will have suffered through another year of renewed uncertainty about the standards they will have to meet.

And EPA has not put in place some Draconian plan.  All that’s being required is that new plants, or plants undergoing major changes install the latest, affordable equipment.  Why would we want new plants to be dirtier than they have to be?

We shouldn’t stop work already underway to clean up our air and tackle climate change while we wait for Congress to get its act together. And Congressional “delays” tend to be extended year after year.  Before we know it, America will be four or five years further behind in confronting the worst environmental, economic, and national security challenge of our time.

That isn’t something the Brown I know would want. And it’s not something the people of Ohio should want.  Ohio has one of the best clean energy stories to tell in the nation. Confronting climate change and shifting to more sustainable energy will bring more jobs to your state and make the hard-working families of Ohio healthier.

When your children are sick, you don’t stop giving them the medicine they need because a better product might be available someday.  Heck, you don’t even wait for your kids to GET SICK if you can take pre-emptive action to avoid it.

Sherrod Brown can stand up for the health and welfare of Ohio’s families by working WITH the EPA to make sure implementation of the Clean Air Act is successful in bringing standards up-to-date to  protect public health and drive innovation.  That is the leadership we need.

This blog was originally posted on the NRDC Action Fund blog, The Markup.

 

 

Poor Blanche, Stuck in the Middle with No One

Shaila Dewan of the New York Times has opted to throw Senator Blanche Lincoln a pity party bemoaning her primary challenge from Lt. Governor Bill Halter as well as the various Republicans lining to challenge her should she win the May 18th primary.

In a state where voters are known for valuing personal relationships over ideology, Mrs. Lincoln, a moderate Democrat, is in trouble even here in her own hometown, among those who attended high school with her or went hunting with her father. And her tenuous position shows just how dangerous a place the political middle has become.

Caught in a surge of antigovernment sentiment, Mrs. Lincoln has been blasted by conservatives for allowing health care legislation to proceed, and has already attracted a slate of potential Republican challengers. At the same time, in a state with a more centrist tradition than most others in the South, she has become a target of the left for opposing a government-run public health care option, easier organizing rules for unions and regulation to fight global warming.

Not only do polls show her behind several of the Republicans, she now also faces a challenger in the May 18 Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who has been championed by national liberal groups that have pledged to spend millions of dollars to fight her.

“I am the rope in the tug of war, folks,” Mrs. Lincoln told supporters in Little Rock last week.

It's hard to have much sympathy for Blanche the bland. It's a sad testament to the state of the nation's politics if the definition of moderate is Blanche Lincoln. The liberal advocacy group MoveOn noted that Senator Lincoln  is “one of the worst corporate Democrats in Washington,” saying that she had taken $866,000 from insurance companies and over $1 million from Wall Street firms.

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The Senate Democrats on the "Bunning Blockade"

Members of the Democratic caucus speak out on Senator Bunning's blockade of extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont called it "immoral" while Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said the GOP's actions were "unconscionable."

Today, in an editorial in Senator Bunning's home state of Kentucky the Lexington Herald-Leader described Senator Bunning's actions as "callous grandstanding."

As long as Republicans were in charge, Sen. Jim Bunning was OK with trading a surplus for a deficit. He voted to put two wars, tax cuts and a Medicare drug benefit on the nation's credit card.

Now that Republicans are no longer in charge, Bunning is drawing the line on deficit spending. He's doing it in a way that shows callous contempt for the more than one in 10 working Kentuckians whose jobs disappeared in the economic meltdown.

We've become accustomed to bizarre, egocentric behavior from Bunning. So it wasn't all that surprising when he single-handedly blocked an unemployment benefits extension for a million people, including 119,230 in Kentucky, whose benefits run out this year. About 14,000 Kentuckians will exhaust their benefits in two weeks without the extension.

Bunning's filibuster also denies newly laid-off workers help paying for health insurance. It halts road and bridge projects around the country by furloughing 2,000 federal transportation employees, stops reimbursements to state highway programs and cuts Medicare payments to doctors.

To those who know him, it's not surprising that Bunning answered a Democratic colleague's complaint with a crude profanity. Or that he joked about missing a basketball game while pushing some unemployed Kentuckians into homelessness or bankruptcy.

The Lexington Herald-Leader also chastised Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, the leading Republicans to succeed the retiring-at-the-end-of-term Bunning, for jumping on Senator Bunning's one-man band wagon of obstructionism.

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Passing Public Option Via Reconciliation Gathers Steam

The effort to bring the public option up for a vote continues to gather steam in the wake of the Bennet Letter written by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado - and orginally co-signed by Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon - to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to use the reconciliation process. Eighteen Democratic Senators have now signed the letter. Those who have signed on are Senator Barbara Boxer of California, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Senator Roland Burris of Illinois and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

The other development overnight is a bit of a mixed bag. Appearing on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show last night, Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the White House is willing to make a push for the public option if Senate Democrats decide to bring it up for a vote. 

"Certainly. If it's part of the decision of the Senate leadership to move forward, absolutely," she told Rachel Maddow.

While welcomed, it is not exactly the strongest display of leadership. This I will if you will is passing the buck to Harry Reid when it should be the President that leads. Still, it perhaps merits taking a wait and see approach. The New York Times reports this morning that the Administration will put forward comprehensive health care legislation intended to bridge differences between Senate and House Democrats ahead of a summit meeting with Republicans next week.

Democratic officials said the president’s proposal was being written so that it could be attached to a budget bill as a way of averting a Republican filibuster in the Senate. The procedure, known as budget reconciliation, would let Democrats advance the bill with a simple majority rather than a 60-vote supermajority.

Congressional Democrats, however, have not yet seen the proposal or signed on.

The House and the Senate each adopted a version of sweeping health care legislation late last year. But efforts to combine the measures stalled after a Republican, Scott Brown, won a special Senate election in Massachusetts on Jan. 19, effectively stripping the Democrats of the 60th vote they needed to overcome Republican filibusters.

“It will be a reconciliation bill,” one Democratic aide said. “If Republicans don’t come with any substantial offers, this is what we would do.”

Officials said that the White House would post the president’s plan on the Internet by Monday morning. But even as Mr. Obama tries to unite his party behind a single plan, it is unclear that Democrats can muster the needed votes in the House and the Senate given the tense political climate of a midterm election year.

Monday thus looms large. It may be a make or break day for the Administration and the progressive movement. Should the White House fail to show leadership on this, it may be time to take full stock of Administration that is long on rhetoric but short on delivery.

The Bennet Letter

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado today stood up for the American people and wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him to bring the public insurance option back up for a vote and to pass it via the reconciliation process which requires only 51 votes. The Bennet letter was co-signed by Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

The four Senators, all Democrats, cite that they support a public option plan for four reasons: the cost savings the public option is estimated to achieve, continued public support for the public option, the need for increased competition in the insurance market and the Senate's history of using the reconciliation process for health care reform. The letter points out that the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare Advantage, and the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) were all enacted under reconciliation.

"Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public’s perception of it," the letter stated. "The Senate has an obligation to reform our unworkable health insurance market — both to reduce costs and to give consumers more choices. A strong public option is the best way to deliver on both of these goals, and we urge its consideration under reconciliation rules."

"Put simply, including a strong public option is one of the best, most fiscally responsible ways to reform our health insurance system," the letter says. "Although we strongly support the important reforms made by the Senate-passed health reform package, including a strong public option would improve both its substance and the public’s perception of it."

More from Politico:

Bennet took the lead in the Senate to round up co-signers for the letter, which was spearheaded by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America and Credo Action. A similar effort in the House netted 119 signers to a letter.

The senators have made the calculation that the public option is popular with Democrats, and the absence of one in the final bill is one reason that voters are unenthusiastic about it.

When the public option was still on the table, proponents in the Senate thought a majority of the Democratic caucus would vote it, making the inclusion of one in a bill passed through reconciliation a mathematical possibility.

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