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Lindsey Graham must have been feeling especially fiesty this week when he took aim at the freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a biting, tongue-in-cheek Tweet:
But first....a little context.
Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as people who are tired of typing out her full damn name have branded her, pushed the "Green New Deal" this week with disastrous consequences.
Bloomberg posted this Opinion piece with my favorite turn of a phrase in quite some time, calling the Green Deal "ruinously expensive":
Skeptics of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s promise of a Green New Deal were worried that the plan would be a Trojan horse for unrealistic and ruinously expensive economic proposals that have little to do with stopping climate change. The unveiling of the plan gives them more reason for worry. Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal appears to take every big spending idea that has emerged on the political left in recent years and combine them into one large package deal, with little notion of how to pay for them all.
The Green New Deal as introduced to Congress is in the form of a non-binding resolution laying out a series of goals. The wording of the resolution is ambitious, but vague. More concerning are the details of an online FAQthat appeared on Ocasio-Cortez’s website but was later taken down. The FAQ contained important details that are not included in the resolution itself. On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, referred to the FAQ as a “bad copy,” and promised to release a revised version.
But the original FAQ may give insight into the Ocasio-Cortez camp’s true goals. And it shows that although the Green New Deal bills itself primarily as an environmental policy and jobs program, the most expensive items are enormous new entitlements paid for by unlimited deficit spending.
First, to be fair, it’s important to discuss the good ideas in the plan. The Green New Deal would retrofit all American buildings and factories to be carbon-neutral, electrify all transportation, and switch the entire electrical grid to carbon-neutral energy sources. These goals are highly ambitious, but they’re good targets. Ocasio-Cortez’s plan correctly recognizes that carbon taxes wouldn’t be enough to prompt private companies to do all these things on their own, and that large-scale government-funded infrastructure is required. Furthermore, a focus on scaling up clean energy would push the technology forward. That would help other countries — where most of the world’s carbon emissions are produced — to follow in the U.S’s footsteps.
But these environmental policies, as sweeping as they would be, wouldn’t be the most costly items on the list. Among other things, the now-removed FAQ stipulates that every American would be guaranteed the following:
1. “a job with family-sustaining wages, family and medical leave, vacations, and retirement security”
2. “high-quality education, including higher education and trade schools”
3. “high-quality health care”
4. “safe, affordable, adequate housing”
5. “economic security to all who are unable or unwilling to work”
The plan thus appears to combine a federal job guarantee, free college and single-payer health care. Depending on how one interprets the guarantee of “economic security” to all those who are “unwilling to work,” it might also include a universal basic income — something that was mentioned in an earlier Green New Deal proposal. The guarantee of universal affordable housing is, to my knowledge, new.
How much would these proposals cost? It’s hard to know. Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All proposal was predicted to cost about $3.2 trillion a year. Switching to renewable energy would conservatively cost more than $400 billion annually. Even though the cost is coming down as technology improves, net-zero emissions retrofits of every building in the country would be expensive — optimistically, perhaps $88,000 for a townhouse, and presumably much more for free-standing homes. Assuming $100,000 per home, that comes to about $1.4 trillion a year over a decade. Factories, office buildings, stores, etc. would cost much more per building, but there are far fewer of them — about 5.6 million. If each one costs $500,000 to retrofit, that’s about $300 billion more per year.
For universal basic income, the cost has been estimated at $3.8 trillion a year. A narrower program that only covered, say, one out of three Americans who are “unable or unwilling” to work, it would cost about $1.3 trillion. By comparison, free college would be cheap at about $47 billion a year. Affordable housing for the entire nation could cost a lot, depending on what that means, but let’s ignore that for now.
So this quick, rough cost estimate — which doesn’t include all of the promises listed in the FAQ — adds up to about $6.6 trillion a year. That’s more than three times as much as the federal government collects in tax revenue, and equal to about 34 percent of the U.S.’s entire gross domestic product. And that’s assuming no cost overruns — infrastructure projects, especially in the U.S., are subject to cost bloat. Total government spending already accounts for about 38 percent of the economy, so if no other programs were cut to pay for the Green New Deal, it could mean that almost three-quarters of the economy would be spent via the government.
And all this is assuming that repurposing essentially all of the nation’s economic resources doesn’t cause any loss in economic efficiency. History and the experiences of other countries suggest that this wouldn’t be the case.
Most troubling, the Green New Deal’s FAQ sidesteps the question of how to pay for the plan. It simply links to two op-eds explaining so-called modern monetary theory, or MMT, which posits that deficits don’t matter all that much in the absence of inflation for those countries that issue their own currency.
Even NPR published a piece suggesting many of the proposals in the deal are simply impossible:
Are those ideas doable?
Many in the climate science community, as well as Green New Deal proponents, agree that saving the world from disastrous effects of climate change requires aggressive action.
And some of the Green New Deal's goals are indeed aggressive. For example, Ocasio-Cortez told NPR that "in 10 years, we're trying to go carbon-neutral."
According to Jesse Jenkins, a postdoctoral environmental fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School, that may be an unreachable goal.
"Where we need to be targeting really is a net-zero carbon economy by about 2050, which itself is an enormous challenge and will require reductions in carbon emissions much faster than have been achieved historically," he said. "2030 might be a little bit early to be targeting."
Similarly, removing combustible engines from the roads or expanding high-speed rail to largely eliminate air travel would require nothing short of revolutionizing transportation.
Likewise, some of the more progressive economic policies — universal health care and a job guarantee, for example — while popular among some Democrats, would also be very difficult to implement and transition into.
On top of all that, implementing all of these policies could cost trillions upon trillions of dollars.
Altogether, the Green New Deal is a loose framework. It does not lay out guidance on how to implement these policies.
Rather, the idea is that Ocasio-Cortez and Markey will "begin work immediately on Green New Deal bills to put the nuts and bolts on the plan described in this resolution."
And again, all of this is hypothetical — it would be tough to implement and potentially extremely expensive ... if it passed.
Enter Lindsey Graham
So into this mess comes Lindsey Graham, who posted on Twitter he would welcome a vote on the "New Green Deal":
Enter Lindsey Graham
Our friends over at the Daily Caller explained more:
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham wants Congress to put the “Green New Deal” resolution to a vote to show Americans “what kind of solutions far-left Democrats are offering to deal with climate change.”
“Let’s vote on the Green New Deal!” Graham, a Republican, tweeted Friday. “Americans deserve to see what kind of solutions far-left Democrats are offering to deal with climate change.”
Graham knows the Green New Deal would never pass Congress. In fact, Democrats aren’t united behind the bill, which moderates fear will alienate key bases of their support, including unions.
Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled the Green New Deal billThursday, and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
The resolution calls for “10-year national mobilizations” to fighting global warming by eliminating all carbon dioxide emissions from all sectors of the economy, including the power industry, agriculture, transportation and every building.
The Green New Deal also calls for “repairing historic oppression” among certain groups and putting in place a slew of welfare programs, from universal health care to government jobs guarantees.
“So really the heart of the Green New Deal is about social justice and it’s about allowing and fighting for things like fully funded pensions for coal miners in West Virginia, fighting for clean water in Flint, and fighting for the ability of indigenous peoples to take a leadership role in, in where we’re moving as a country,” Ocasio-Cortez told NPR Thursday.
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Only while they last.