Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan is set to unveil his draft budget this week. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan has said that Congressional leaders have a “moral obligation” to reduce the country’s debt.
Some political leaders are taking that challenge to heart, calling for action not just on fiscal issues, but on the most pressing moral issue of our time: climate change.
California Congressman Henry Waxman ? known as one of the political architects of a comprehensive climate bill in 2009 ? continues to sound the drumbeat in support of pricing carbon in order to reduce the country’s debt. Speaking at an event at the Center for American Progress today, Waxman said he believes addressing the country’s fiscal challenges is a unique opportunity to act on climate, and offers the chance to build support from deficit hawks in Congress.
“The U.S. is facing a range of unprecedented fiscal and environmental challenges,” said Waxman. “We’ve got a confluence of events happening all at once.”
On the fiscal side, with the Bush-era tax credits set to expire, the defense budget facing a major sequester, and the need for another debt ceiling deal looming, deficit issues are sure to dominate politics. On the environmental side, scientists continue to warn that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are making weather more severe, costing the country billions in damages and lives.
The two issues cannot be kept separate, said Waxman. They are part of the same problem.
He estimates that a $20 per-ton price on carbon could raise more than $200 billion over the next decade. It would also get the U.S. on a path toward meaningful carbon emission reductions, which will be far cheaper to address today than in the future as global warming accelerates.
“These problems are easier to solve together,” said Waxman.
While the solution hasn’t gotten major traction in Washington yet, it does have some bipartisan support. Last July, both the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute ? two organizations with fundamentally different policy views ? endorsed a carbon price as a deficit reduction strategy.
Other Republicans are also endorsing the measure. Wayne Gilchrest, a former Republican Congressman from Maryland, joined Waxman in support of the plan.
“Paul Ryan said this is a defining moment. Well, this is a defining moment with 7 billion people on the planet,” said Gilchrest. “I do think this is the sort of juxtaposition on issues that will be necessary to solve both of them.”
Gilchrest lamented that GOP leaders have politicized climate science.
“Here in Washington there’s a great chasm between the scientific community and policymakers…Maybe I was a little naive to think that if you explain the facts then the policy would follow…fellas, let’s get politics out of the way and look at the bare facts,” said Gilchrest.
Even with emerging bipartisan support, the politics around climate change minimize the chances of getting a strong price on carbon. But there’s one thing that can trump the ideological resistance to action on climate change: reducing the deficit. And if the two issues can be paired together, there’s a compelling opportunity for bringing fiscal conservatives on board.
Waxman said that supporters are still in the early education phase.
“Some people I’ve talked to are thinking about it and find it interesting, some haven’t thought about it at all,” said Waxman. “But we want people to start thinking about this alternative.”