Senate Republicans have come up with a novel way to fight the climate change bill working its way through the House: Tee off on Big Business, and tie it around the neck of the Democrats.
In a strategy memo obtained by POLITICO, Republican staffers for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works say Republicans should argue that Democrats are embracing “Wall Street traders,” “polluters” and “others in corporate America” who are “guilty of manipulating national climate policy to increase profits on the backs of consumers."
The Republican role-reversal may be counterintuitive — GOP candidates routinely describe themselves as “pro-business” — but Republicans say it reflects their party’s new reality.
“Business is not always going to be a good friend of the Republicans, and that needs to be reflected in our strategy,” said MWR Strategies President Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist. “The GOP business model is probably busted forever. It started to break apart on TARP, and it could permanently break apart on climate change.”
While the GOP tries to hold the line against a massive climate change bill, a number of major corporations — including Duke Energy, Johnson & Johnson and Shell Corp. — are backing cap-and-trade proposals by the United States Climate Action Partnership coalition, a group of environmental groups and businesses advocating legislation to reduce greenhouse gases.
U.S. CAP members include the Natural Resources Defense Council, General Electric, Ford Motor Company, and other environmental groups and Fortune 500 companies.
The GOP memo accuses USCAP members of “blatant rent-seeking.”
Democrats laughed off the harsh language Tuesday, saying it’s too late in the day to convince voters that Democrats — rather than Republicans — are in bed with Big Business.
“I find it extremely amusing that suddenly the Democrats are being attacked as being too friendly to business creation. I don’t get it,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “No one is going to believe that the Republicans are attacking us for creating jobs and new businesses. It doesn’t make sense.”
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Added House Democratic aide: “The Party of ExxonMobil and Peabody coal cannot credibly convince the American public that they are the champions of small businesses and consumers.”
A climate change bill sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is expected to clear Waxman’s committee this week. A number of Republican leaders, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, have long argued that such cap-and-trade legislation would raise energy costs for consumers and do damage to an already fragile economy.
“House and Senate Republicans are clearly working together to develop the best strategy to defeat a national energy tax that will increase energy costs, raise taxes in the middle of a recession and drive good-paying jobs overseas,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “The only constituency that’s important to us is ... the American people.”
The GOP memo focuses on the Democrats’ work with USCAP, calling the group a collection of “polluters” who are “writing significant portions of the Waxman-Markey bill.” There’s no dispute that the group has worked closely with the Democrats; a source who attended a committee markup on the climate change bill Tuesday said that Waxman’s staff had reserved a front-row seat for the group.
But USCAP spokeswoman Katie Mandes rejecte the notion that her group is “big business,” saying that it has “several members that would be classified as small to medium businesses and five nongovernment organizations.”
“We are completely nonpartisan,” Mandes said. “We have pledged to work with Congress, the administration and with any and all stakeholders.”
Knowing they probably can’t stop the bill in the House, Republicans are doing what they can to slow its progress — and to make the process as painful as possible for vulnerable Democrats.
A slew of Republican amendments has delayed committee consideration of the bill. During five hours of markup Tuesday, members made it through only two amendments; Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said Republicans could offer about 400 amendments — 70 to 80 of which could require committee consideration.
Asked whether Waxman would be able to move the bill out of committee by Thursday — his self-imposed deadline — Barton said: “He’s dreaming. It ain’t gonna happen.”
Waxman said Tuesday that the committee would work late into the evening Tuesday, and again Wednesday, to get the bill done — and he hinted that he might start limiting the amount of time for debate on each amendment.
Barton has offered his own alternative to the Democrats’ bill, but supporters of the Waxman-Markey effort says his proposal contains the same sort of corporate giveaways the Republicans have accused the Democrats of providing.
“Joe Barton’s alternative energy bill is full of more handouts to big oil companies that made $650 billion in profits over the past eight years,” said Daniel J. Weiss, a climate director at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Weiss said that the GOP effort to cast itself as “the party of consumers is as laughable as Bristol Palin advocating teenage abstinence.”
But this isn’t the first time that GOP and Big Business have split. During the recession in the early 1980s, Republicans and some industrial interests split over Democrats’ proposal to place tariffs on imported cars and other goods, according to the Heritage Foundation. And in recent months, Republicans voted against President Barack Obama’s economy stimulus plan and the release of additional Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, despite significant business support for both.
Kenneth P. Green, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said small business may be a better match for the GOP now because it will find “permitting and carbon regulations more burdensome than bigger businesses.”
“Big Business has no loyalty to any party — it exists to do its job and make a profit,” Green said. “I don’t see [the Republicans] going back to the party of Big Business. This could be a permanent breech.”