Now that things are beginning to settle down a bit, and the major players on both sides of the aisle in both Houses are becoming known quantities instead of “potential candidates”, lets take a look at what is in store for us over the coming two years.
It’s easy to make dire predictions, run around in circles flapping our wings and shouting “the sky is falling.” For partisan Democrats and the liberal crowd out there, the new Congress is like a ray of sunshine after six years of night. For partisan Republicans, it must seem like the country has been consigned to outer darkness. For conservatives, well, who knows what conservatives think. Some are horrified. Some are smug; “that’s what you Republicans get for not being conservative enough”. Some see it as a chance to regroup and get back to “true” conservative values. Conservatives are all over the map.
Certainly, the direction from Congress will be very different over the next two years. The biggest difference will be that Congress will have a direction, albeit one that is quite different from what most conservatives would like. This as opposed to the outgoing Republican Congress which wandered aimlessly tugged 15 directions at once by a President who, with the single exception of the war on terror, couldn’t seem to focus on a any issue for very long, and who clearly doesn’t share the conservative values that his party supposedly represents.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are focused. They have agenda items they have been waiting a long time to pursue. Some of these are the same items that Republicans tried to pursue; income tax reform, social security reform, and education reform to name a few. But while the names remain the same, the Democrat versions of these issues are vastly different from what conservatives would like to see enacted.
Will the President stand tall for conservative values when the Democrat versions of these initiatives come to his desk for his signature, or will he sign them so that he can take credit for being the president who passed Social Security reform, income tax reform, or Medicare reform?
History lauds President Clinton as the president who fixed Welfare, ignoring that he had to be dragged to the table to sign it, kicking and screaming, by a Republican congress. Will Mr. Bush, in the twilight of his career as president, be any different?
Judging by past history, and by Mr. Bush’s past actions in particular, I would have to say that the Democrat congress will probably be fairly successful in passing much of what they want. Oh there will be compromises, to be sure – that’s politics. Still, if the Democrats show the velvet glove and at least appear to be willing to work with the Republicans, the Republicans will come off as cry babies if they oppose too strenuously what the press is sure to spin as a “mandate” for change.
And of course, there is still always the “iron fist” of investigation and impeachment that can be played if necessary.
For every Democrat chairing every committee in the upcoming 110th congress, there is a main agenda item. Senator Barbara Boxer, the incoming chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee is no exception. Her main catch phrases are “global warming” and “extensive hearings”, the latter which she shares with the majority of her Democrat counterparts. I expect the next two years will be filled with “extensive hearings” on all sorts of topics.
Expect a very different focus from the Senate Environment and Public Works committee under Senator Boxer. Unlike the outgoing chair, Senator Inhofe, Senator Boxer is a big proponent of the global warming theory that says human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is responsible for increasing global temperatures and if unchecked will lead to irreversible global catastrophe in just a few years. While Senator Inhofe regards it as “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”, Senator Boxer plans, when she takes office in January, to begin “a very long process of extensive hearings” on global warming.
Her plans? "I think there ought to be a global-warming bill that looks at all the contributors to carbon-dioxide emissions," she said, citing California's legislation requiring automakers to reduce emissions as "an excellent role model."
An avowed liberal environmental activist, Senator Boxer is sure to take a much more aggressive stance on environmental issues than her predecessor. Her main issues seem to be concern for drinking water and oil production. She led the fight in 2003 and again in 2005 to block oil drilling in the ANWR. She also opposes drilling off shore in California.
Energy independence from foreign sources may be an important strategic consideration for the United States, but for Ms. Boxer, increasing domestic production by drilling new wells is not the way to fix the problem.
As for clean water, I have to admit, it’s difficult to argue against. Who doesn’t want clean water? I myself have a reverse osmosis set up at home to ensure my water is pure. Mostly it is there to take the salt out of the water that my water softener puts in. I also find it useful, however, to take out the fluoride that our city government has found it necessary to add to our water supply. I suspect that this is a use that Ms. Boxer would find objectionable.
For things that Senator Boxer deems to be a “pollutant” however, no amount is too small to be removed, even if it is less than what may naturally occur in the water supply. Requiring businesses to do so places an undo burden on their competitiveness in the world marketplace, and increases costs to the consumer for dubious benefit.
Having said that, I am not against everything Ms. Boxer has done. She was a leader in the effort to ban methyl tertiary butyl ether (MBTE), a toxic gasoline additive that has contaminated drinking water across the country. The full effect of MBTE on humans is not known. Animal research suggest a potential cancer risk, however studies were done in inhalation not ingestation of the substance. According to the EPA, MBTE dissolves easily in water and does not “cling” to soils very will, migrating faster and farther in the ground than other gasoline components. This makes it more likely to contaminate public water systems and private drinking water wells. It does not degrade easily in the environment and is difficult and costly to remove from ground water.
Why do we have MBTE in our gasoline? MTBE is an oxygenator. It was originally produced as a gasoline additive to replace lead as an anti-knock compound. Since 1992, MTBE has been used at higher concentrations in some gasoline to fulfill the oxygenate requirements set by Congress in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, which required the use of oxygenated gasoline in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Some areas used ethanol to fulfill this requirement, others, MTBE.
So MTBE was put into wide usage to fulfill a congressional requirement to combat air pollution. Sometimes it seems, the cure is as bad as or worse than the disease.
So where does Senator Boxer stand on other issues?
Interestingly, Senator Boxer received a 71% rating in support of the interests of the group Comprehensive US Sustainable Population, which has as one of its goals “to raise public awareness that many higher costs, inconveniences and hardships, inequities, and lowered quality of life and standard of living are due to people longages (sic) more than to resource shortages”. In other words, we have too many people in the US, and need to reduce our population to “sustainable” levels. They would like to see US population back to where it was in the 1940s (132-150 million – US Census figures).
During the same period, however she received a 9% rating from US Border Control and a 0% rating from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), groups dedicated to ending illegal immigration into the United States. In particular, FAIR “believes that the U.S. can and must have an immigration policy that is non-discriminatory and designed to serve the environmental, economic, and social needs of our country”. Despite the avowed environmental interest expressed by FAIR, Ms. Boxer apparently supports no legislation that FAIR deems important.
It would seem that while Ms. Boxer may think we have too many people in the US, the problem is indigenous baby production, not the external surplus crossing our borders illegally. To bolster this thesis, her ratings with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America are 100%, while her rating with National Right to Life Committee is 0%.
What do I expect to see come out of her committee in the next two years? Lots of investigation into global warming, along with associated legislation to curb “greenhouse gas” emissions across the board, but specifically targeting the automobile industry; most probably modeled on existing legislation in California. Such legislation would not be limited to cars, but include trucks and vans as well.
I would expect a whole host of federally-mandated “tweaks” designed to increase energy conservation, such as requiring micro-CHP systems in businesses and homes, radiant barrier roof decking, solar hot water systems, etc. Some of these I might actually support, although in general, I prefer the “carrot”, rather than the “big stick” approach to government intervention. Tax incentives, such as those that expired under President Reagan, to encourage the voluntary adoption of these technologies would be a much better approach in my opinion,
However, as I have said before, we are in desperate need of a national energy policy. The Republicans don’t appear to have any specific plans, except drilling for more oil in the ANWR. That’s fine, and I agree with that; but it’s clearly a non-starter now. And we need a much more comprehensive plan than that. Perhaps we can pick up part of the conservation piece of the puzzle here. Although I disagree in general with the idea that tax policy should be used as an engine of social change, since we are currently playing that game…
I would also not be surprised to see restrictions and regulations on the location of windmill farms. This seems to be becoming an issue with environmentalists who are concerned that birds are being killed, and by those who consider such to be an eyesore.
In short, we should see a very different direction taken by the Senate Environment and Public Works committee than has been the case for the past four years. How much legislation will actually pass depends on whether or not Mr. Bush can find his veto pen, and where the legislation is attached. Should the Democrats hold the Senate in 2008, and take the Presidency as well, I expect you will see this committee become more of a factor in your everyday life than ever before.
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