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Climate Change Weekly #471: Special Edition: The Republican Debt Ceiling Bill Deserves the People’s Support



  • The Republican Debt Ceiling Bill Deserves the People’s Support
  • Podcast of the Week: Policy, Power, and Politics: Renewable Energy Plagues Texas (Guest: Jason Isaac)
  • Climate Comedy
  • Video of the Week: Getting to Net Zero Requires Magical Thinking
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The Republican Debt Ceiling Bill Deserves the People’s Support



It is clear that House Republicans put a lot of thought into their bill to raise the debt ceiling, officially named the 2023 Limit, Save, and Grow Act (LSGA). Much more thought, in fact, than the Biden administration and Democrats, who narrowly controlled both houses of Congress for the past two years, put into making the laughably titled Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) reduce inflation or strengthen the American economy.

Contrary to the shrill claims made in the mainstream media, the United States will not necessarily miss debt payments, much less default on its debt, if the debt ceiling is not raised by June 1. There are a lot of discretionary programs and spending that can be cut. Domestic bill payments can be delayed, and agencies or departments can be closed while negotiations continue and the debt is serviced.

There is no reason, however, for the country to hit that deadline. The solution is to accept the perfectly reasonable spending cuts and provisions developed by the House Republicans.

The House’s hard line on spending comes at a time when, according to a recent poll by Pew Research, nearly 60 percent of Americans list reducing the budget deficit as a top priority. Interestingly, climate change doesn’t even make Pew’s list of top priorities.

The LSGA would require reducing discretionary spending at various departments and agencies to their fiscal 2022 levels. These would be real reductions, not just a slowing of the rate of growth, as often accompanies end-of-year omnibus budget bills or previous debt ceiling increases, which Republicans have traditionally portrayed as “heroic savings” and Democrats as “drastic cuts.”

The growth in federal spending has been crazy in recent years, far above the rate of inflation, as the government has inserted itself ever more deeply into peoples’ lives and personal choices, such as dictating whether they have to pay rent; stay at home; what their children have to be exposed to in school, in locker rooms, and on playing fields; and what cars, appliances, and energy sources they can have. If the discretionary spending reductions in the House bill stand, spending by federal agencies will have to be reduced to more than 20 percent below what was planned for 2024, estimates show. Going forward, discretionary spending could only grow by 1 percent per year for the next decade.

Does this mean agencies can’t do their jobs? Of course not. But it would require them to slow their mission creep, which lately could more appropriately be called “mission blitzkrieg.” It would force regulators to act like the rest of us and make tradeoffs. We might have some hope that agencies would follow the actual missions set for them in law.

The budget cuts might force the EPA, for instance, to limit its actions to regulating criteria pollutants and toxins covered by various clean water and air acts, instead of restricting carbon dioxide (which isn’t mentioned as a pollutant in the Clean Air Act) or limiting people’s land uses based on federal “wetlands” protections (which is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Clean Water Act), or spending billions on “environmental justice,” however defined, which is a creation of executive orders, not any law passed by Congress.

These forced spending cuts would also reduce the role of the federal government in states’ educational systems and power grids, leaving those matters to the states where they belong and long resided without federal interference and mandates before the Departments of Education and Energy were created under paternalist-in-chief President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. Can anyone with a straight face say test scores and energy security have improved since the creation of these vast agencies with roles not enumerated in the U.S. Constitution as belonging to the federal government? Of course not.

These provisions, by themselves, would have a huge impact in reining in out-of-control federal spending and the egregious overreach it allows into the states’ lawful authority and individual peoples’ lives.

The LSGA would also impose limited work or training requirements on some Medicaid recipients. Medicaid was established as a social safety net to ensure medical care for the poorest Americans, their children, and some people with disabilities. The Medicare rolls have grown dramatically as the federal government expanded coverage beyond those living in poverty. The Republican debt limit bill doesn’t end or even sharply curtail Medicare payments to the states. As the Kaiser Family Foundation notes, the bill would require certain able-bodied adults in the program to work part-time, undergo training, or participate in other qualifying activities to continue to receive the federal share of Medicaid:

[A]dult enrollees ages 19-55 would need to work or participate in other qualifying activities (like community service or job training) for at least 80 hours per month. There would be exemptions for those who are physically or mentally unfit for employment (as determined by a physician or other medical professional), pregnant, the parent or caretaker of a dependent child or incapacitated person, complying with a work requirement under a different federal program, participating in drug or alcohol treatment or rehabilitation program, or enrolled in school at least half time.

This shouldn’t be controversial. No one should want to be on welfare or receiving aid or charity. Work benefits workers themselves, building wealth, character, and self-esteem, and society as a whole. If taxpayers are going to pick up able-bodied adults’ health care costs, the least the recipients should do is work a little or try to find work. All Republicans are asking is that those who can work make an effort to do so and thereby improve their lot in life.

The LSGA also rescinds the $70 billion given to the Internal Revenue Service under the IRA to hire 50,000 to 80,000 new armed agents. The Biden administration claimed the new tax enforcement agents would not harass middle- and low-income people and would focus on wealthy tax cheats. This promise rings hollow. Nowhere does the IRA limit the scope of the IRS’s activities to investigating the wealthy, and the wealthy have the resources to exploit every tax loophole and credit, whereas average folks can’t afford the advisors to help them take advantage of dodges hidden in the intricate provisions of the tax code. I suspect IRS agents will go after the low-hanging fruit in their investigations. It will be easier to prosecute little guys even though the resulting tax revenues, fines, and penalties will be relatively small.

The LSGA would also claw back the remaining unspent billions in COVID relief money. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said, “The American people are tired of politicians who use COVID as an excuse for more extreme inflationary spending. Now, if this money was authorized to fight the pandemic and was not spent during the pandemic, it should not be spent after the pandemic is over.” This should be a no-brainer.

The LSGA would also cancel Biden’s lavish debt relief for student loan borrowers. There is no reason whatsoever to allow people who benefitted from student loans to avoid paying them back. It is perverse to force those who paid off their student loans, or who never took out student loans and instead got on with the business of life by going to work in careers not needing a college degree, or who paid for their degrees not by borrowing but by working and/or earning merit-based scholarships, or other taxpayers and future generations to send money to students who borrowed to get degrees (often in fields that have limited value in the real world) but now find it hard to pay them back while living the lifestyle they think their degree entitles them to.

The simple mantra should be, “You borrow the money, you pay it back.” That may seem harsh to the snowflakes, but millions of hard-working people in debt with mortgages, car loans, and credit card debt do it every day.

The LSGA includes several other critical provisions. One element would rescind the subsidies and open-ended tax credits for Biden’s much-touted green energy transition contained in the IRA. The IRA provided generous subsidies and tax credits for people to add solar panels to their roofs and purchase electric vehicles (EV), subsidies to build more grid-scale solar and wind projects and the transmission lines to deliver them, subsidies to retrofit homes and businesses to maximize energy efficiency, money to build out the nationwide electric vehicle charging system necessary to keep the highly subsidized EVs running, and a variety of other highly subsidized green energy programs.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the IRA’s energy and climate provisions would cost $391 billion between 2022 and 2031. The Institute for Energy Research notes this is almost certainly a “huge under-estimate” of the ultimate cost because of “lucrative tax credits in the law that are not capped.”

Estimates from Goldman-Sachs, the Mercatus Center, and others estimate the true cost of the green energy part of the IRA alone could top $1.3 trillion over the life of the program, amounting by itself to approximately 87 percent of the entire amount the debt ceiling would be raised by the House bill.

None of this spending is authorized in the powers given to the federal government in the U.S. Constitution, nor is it justified by the carbon-dioxide emission reductions the entire panoply of programs would supposedly produce. Even if one believes, as I do not, carbon-dioxide emissions must be reduced to fight climate change, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the reduction produced by the IRA green energy spending will be just 9 percent by 2030, not the 40 percent that congressional Democrats claimed. In addition, either reduction would be swamped by just a single year’s increase in emissions from China or India. All the economic pain and job losses entailed by the emission cuts would be for naught.

Hold on, say Biden and company. The green energy provisions are job creators because the minerals used in the batteries, magnets, and technologies will be mined and refined in America and the products will be produced and assembled here. It’s true the IRA has build- and buy-America provisions. However, the Biden administration has thus far blocked almost every mine proposed to reduce America’s dependence on China for critical minerals, withdrawing hundreds of thousands of acres of mineral-laden land from mining in the process.

In addition, to meet Biden’s emission reduction goals and timeline, the green energy transition has to be built out rapidly. Yet, the green energy technologies currently aren’t being produced in America at all or not in sufficient numbers to deploy on the short time frame demanded. As a result, Biden has repeatedly waived the buy/build American provisions. We don’t have a sufficient volume of solar panels being constructed here to hit the administration’s installation benchmarks.

Biden’s response has been to waive the buy-America provisions and tariffs imposed on Chinese solar panels by the previous Trump administration, letting China expand its control over our energy future. In addition, because the materials necessary to deploy Biden’s desired 500,000 EV charging stations can’t be produced in America in sufficient quantities, Biden waived the Buy/Build in America provisions for EV battery chargers.

Biden had promised the labor unions the high-paying union jobs his energy policies were eliminating in the oil, gas, and coal fields would be replaced by union jobs in the IRA’s green energy build-out. The unions have objected to Biden’s waivers allowing these jobs to go to China. Biden has turned a deaf ear to their concerns, choosing his radical green constituency over his party’s traditional blue-collar labor union supporters.

In addition to the promised emission reductions having an inconsequential impact on climate change, and the American jobs not materializing as promised, the IRA’s green energy provisions are unjustified because anyone who wants an EV, a more energy-efficient home and appliances, or solar panels can purchase them on the market already. Manufacturers of energy-efficient windows, appliances, and other products that reduce home energy costs are in the marketplace now. We can leave it to them to encourage additional sales and reap the rewards. Homeowners who purchase these products are told they will benefit from energy savings; let that be their reward for making the green choice. Why should taxpayers and already-indebted future generations pick up the bill?

Utilities or companies building the EV chargers will profit handsomely from the power sold at the charging stations, so why should taxpayers have to pay for their construction? Exxon and Shell didn’t go to the government to have it subsidize the construction of their network of gas stations and convenience stores. They did it at their own expense because it made good business sense. These subsidies are intended to encourage those who have chosen not to go green to do so, by making it cheaper. If EV makers want to sell more EVs, let them find ways to lower their prices, as Tesla has done repeatedly this year, to make the vehicles accessible and more attractive to lower- and middle-income car buyers.

With all the attention being paid to the LSGA’s rollbacks of green energy subsidies, cancelling of student debt relief, and the Medicaid work provisions, flying large under the radar is a provision that could have the biggest impact on reining in the unwarranted, unsanctioned-by-law, power grab the federal regulatory state has exercised over the years. This provision would require Congress to approve any new major regulation before it could go into effect. Regulations not approved by both houses of Congress couldn’t be offered again for a minimum of one year.

As Yahoo News wrote regarding this provision,

Government agencies have proposed dozens of major regulations so far this year. One specifies the kinds of operating cords that can be used on custom window coverings, and another would effectively require carmakers to transition two-thirds of all new passenger cars to electric technology.

Under a little-noticed provision in a House bill [LSGA] that passed this month, all of those regulations would need to come before Congress for a vote before they could go into effect. …

While Congress passes laws every year, federal agencies tend to roll out many, many more regulations. …

The [LSGA] would require Congress to approve each of those actions before they go into effect, under a fast-tracked legislative process that would force up-or-down votes on the rules without any possibility of amendment. Any major rule that failed to pass both houses of Congress could not be proposed again for at least a year. Current law allows Congress to upend a regulation it does not like, but the process requires majority votes by both houses of Congress, and a signature by the president, meaning nearly all regulations go into effect.

This is my personal favorite provision of the LSGA. I think it will have the most far-reaching impact on individual freedom and consumer choice. Perhaps more importantly, it puts Congress back in its proper role as the sole source of law under the Constitution, and it will increase the legislature’s accountability for bad regulations. No longer would Congress be able to say of bad regulations from agencies supposedly flowing out of laws they passed, “Blame the bureaucrats,” or “We didn’t intend that,” or “That is regulatory overreach, going far beyond what we sanctioned.” Under this provision, the buck would stop with Congress when costly, choice-restricting, regulations became law.

On this provision, I agree with Yahoo News’ assessment: “[House Republicans’] effort to reshape the federal regulatory process could arguably have a deeper impact on the future functioning of government.”

How deep? Well, thus far this year three bills rolling back egregious clean water, fiduciary duty, and solar panel rules implemented by Biden in pursuit of his emission-cutting agenda have passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis. Biden vetoed each bill, and the vetoes were sustained. Had the regulatory accountability provision in the LSGA been in place, none of those rules would have gone into effect, people’s property and investments would have been protected, and domestic solar panel manufacturers would not be facing possible bankruptcy.

I doubt that all the LSGA provisions will survive the negotiations. Although I think each proposal discussed above has merit, any of them that remain in the final bill, even if they are scaled back, will benefit the American people and the economy. I’m rooting especially for the IRA’s green subsidy rollbacks, the spending reductions and caps, and the regulatory approval provisions.

Sources: Yahoo News, CBS News; KFF; Institute for Energy Research

Podcast of the Week

In this episode, hosted by H. Sterling Burnett, features Jason Isaac from the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Isaac sheds light on a pressing power predicament facing Texas and the nation as a whole: the forced transition from reliable fossil fuel power plants to less dependable wind and solar energy sources. As Texas strives to address this issue, the EPA’s new power plan and the substantial subsidies stipulated in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) potentially pose significant obstacles. The episode delves deeply into these challenges, suggesting that federal courts may eventually declare the EPA’s plan unlawful. It also discusses the House Republicans’ countermeasures, which target the green subsidies in the IRA as part of their Debt Ceiling adjustment bill. Join us to explore the intricacies of these policy debates and their substantial impact on our environment and future climate.

Subscribe to the Environment & Climate News podcast on Apple Podcasts, iHeart, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And be sure to leave a positive review!

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Getting to Net Zero Requires Magical Thinking

H. Sterling Burnett breaks down the false narrative that wind and power can support the electric power grid. The idea that we can transition to net zero by 2050, much less 2035 is an exercise in magical thinking. The grid doesn’t run on magic, it runs on physics.

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H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is the director of The Heartland Institute's Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.


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