The climate crisis is a bigger emergency than the national deficit – it’s time Republicans reevaluate their priorities

The GOP ran up the fiscal deficit by cutting taxes for rich people and corporations – then claims we can’t afford investments for a safer, healthier clean energy future for all

Tom Steyer
Thursday 08 April 2021 12:00
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<p>‘We can’t afford inaction. We have to make green investments and they will pay off big time’</p>

‘We can’t afford inaction. We have to make green investments and they will pay off big time’

Republicans are hypocrites about money. It’s blatant partisanship at the expense of the American people. It’s cruelty masked as responsibility. They run up the fiscal deficit while in power by cutting taxes for rich people and corporations – then they claim we can’t afford social programmes, healthcare, quality education, etc. that would actually help the American people. It’s a game they’ve played since Ronald Reagan was president, and it’s time to call their self-proclaimed ‘fiscal responsibility’ what it is: dangerous and deceitful. 

The Biden administration and the Democrats in the House and Senate delivered on their campaign promise to get immediate relief to the American people. Their Covid-19 relief bill was as historic as it was necessary. The recently announced infrastructure plan is a huge jobs plan, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the New Deal. We need this historic infrastructure bill, and we need it now. But even before we heard exactly what was going to be included in this infrastructure bill, we were already hearing those same Republican talking points that it would cost too much. Congress has consistently treated the national deficit as a bigger emergency than the climate crisis that is truly life or death. They are not the same. 

The Build Back Better plan that the Biden-Harris ticket campaigned on aims to equitably transform our country and help make us more equipped to tackle the climate realities of the future, but also to create the jobs and the economy of the future.

This initial infrastructure plan is one component of that campaign platform. This includes rebuilding our grid, upgrading our built environment, modernising our roadways and water infrastructure, and greening modes of transportation. We can do all that. We must do all that. But rebuilding the country – while it’s necessary and will create future prosperity – will require large investments made harder by the reckless spending and tax cuts from the last Republican administration. But the bottom line is, we have to make these investments to create a safer, healthier clean energy future for all. And believe me when I say, they will pay off big time. 

We can’t afford inaction. If the US doesn’t act, China and Europe who reap the benefits of the clean energy future, and all those projects and all that prosperity will be for their citizens and not the American people. 

To be clear, this is not an austerity conversation. This is not about slow growth or “tighten your belts”. This is about constructing a federal budget to reflect the necessary restructuring of our economy and our world that is already taking place. Passing this infrastructure bill is the first step to setting the public sector foundation for the private sector to build on. 

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The most obvious place to start should be reversing the Trump tax cuts, which benefited people like me, people who needed financial relief the least. A Republican majority passed that economic disaster as an ode to the trickle-down economics of the 1980s and proved, once again, that their claims of fiscal responsibility are laughable. These tax cuts will add $1.9 trillion (£1.38 trillion) to the deficit over just one decade, but reversing them would increase federal tax revenue by $275 billion (£200 billion) annually.

Republicans in Congress knew that cutting tax rates wouldn’t increase tax revenues. They wanted to cut tax revenues so they could continue to cut social programmes that benefit the majority of Americans. That way the money stays in the same pockets, namely theirs. It makes no economic sense, but the Republicans won’t concede that point. The top 1 per cent of America, as their fiscal supporters, won’t let them.  

Corporations and the wealthiest Americans should be paying more, and the president is right to explore his options around corporate and personal income tax rates. The proposed plan calls for raising the corporate tax rate to 28 per cent, raises the global minimum tax from 10 per cent to 21 per cent for US multinational corporations, and eliminates tax preferences for fossil fuels (the current tax code includes billions of dollars in subsidies, loopholes, and special foreign tax credits for the fossil fuel industry).

Farmers in Iowa who had their homes and livelihoods devastated by the derecho, small business owners in California who are struggling to stay afloat and communities of colour in Flint, MI or Denmark, South Carolina without clean drinking water, probably care more about better infrastructure, better jobs, and a more equitable economy than they do about corporations raking in record-setting profits and big bonuses for their CEOs. The American people need to know this is one of the most necessary pieces of legislation for the next four years. 

The fiscal debate will be peppered with buzzwords like “bi-partisanship”, and “deficit hawk”. But we must remember every time someone asks “How are we going to pay for this?” that, yes, we can pay for it and yes we must do it. We can’t let ourselves be thrown off course by political hurdles, this is an opportunity to equitably shape America’s future prosperity and role in the world. It’s time to think big and get it done.

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