Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King voted Tuesday to reject the non-binding resolution known as the Green New Deal. Democrats characterized the vote, brought forward by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, as a GOP ploy to capitalize on retracted documents that aren’t part of the proposal.
Forty-three Democrats, including those who sponsored the resolution, voted “present” in protest. McConnell described the bill as a “far-left wishlist” designed to placate Democratic constituencies in urban areas.
“The proposal addresses the small matter of eliminating the use of all fossil fuels nationwide in a 10-year time frame,” McConnell said. “This might sound like a neat idea in places like San Francisco or New York, the places that the Democratic Party seems totally focused on these days. But communities practically everywhere else would be absolutely crushed.”
But Democrats blasted McConnell, who can unilaterally decide which bills and amendments are considered for floor votes, for holding the Green New Deal vote without any hearings and for attempting to stymie debate on climate change.
“Make no mistake Republicans want to force this political stunt to distract from the fact that they neither have a plan or sense of urgency to deal with the threat of climate change,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
King, who caucuses with Democrats, joined three other Democrats who voted with the Republican majority.
King described McConnell’s decision to hold the vote as a “cynical act of political theater,” but he also acknowledged that he thought the Green New Deal proposal is “overly aggressive,” “unrealistic” and “far too broad.”
“From my perspective, I believe that the most impactful way to confront this challenge is to create realistic time frames for energy transitions, increase energy efficiency [because the cheapest and cleanest kilowatt hour is the one that we don’t use], implement an improved permitting process, and increase investments in green energy — including research and development — to create price parity with carbon sources,” King said in a statement.
“These steps will help not only our environment, but also our economy; by investing in our natural resources, we can make steps toward creating new opportunities for the next generation of workers and reduce our dependence on imported fuels that suck too many dollars out of the Maine economy,” King said.
Collins had a similar response, but refrained from commenting on McConnell’s decision to force the vote. In a statement, she said there is no doubt that climate change is a major environmental challenge that requires global solutions to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. However, she described the Green New Deal as an overly broad and costly proposal.
“The Green New Deal is a wide-ranging, unrealistic resolution that calls for zero carbon emissions and making massive changes to many areas of our nation’s economy and way of life,” Collins said, adding that she has opposed efforts to reverse the Obama administration’s restrictions on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, while supporting renewable energy development.
Collins also noted documents initially released by the House sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, called for a guaranteed income for all who are unable or unwilling to work.
The goal Collins cited was part of a “frequently asked questions” document created by Ocasio-Cortez’s staff and not part of the resolution itself. Ocasio-Cortez’s staff later told the Washington Post that the FAQ was among draft documents, some of which were retracted.
However, those documents, which were generated by Ocasio-Cortez’s staff, have been fodder for Republicans who were already skeptical of the resolution goals to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to net-zero over 10 years, while transitioning to a renewable energy economy that would guarantee jobs for all Americans.
Republicans and conservative commentators used the FAQ documents to declare that the proposal would force Americans to give up hamburgers, milk, airplane travel and cars.
During Tuesday’s Senate debate, Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, used the FAQ documents to mock the proposal. He used posters of Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars” sitting atop a tauntaun, a fictional snow animal, to theorize how Americans in northern states will commute if the climate proposal passed.
Ocasio-Cortez tore into Lee on Twitter, saying, “If this guy can be Senator, you can do anything.”
The theatrics preceded a Senate vote on a multibillion dollar legislation to provide disaster relief to areas hit hard by hurricanes, wildfires and flooding — disasters that scientists say are increasing in frequency and ferocity because of climate change.
Tuesday’s vote blocked the Green New Deal. Even if it had passed, the non-binding resolution would have called on the federal government to take specific steps to address climate change, but lacked the force of law compelling the government to do so.
The proposal has inspired a local version in the Maine Legislature. While the Maine proposal is similar in intent, it would create a task force to come up with the ways to meet its carbon reduction and renewable energy goals.
A public hearing on the bill is expected to take place in April.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.