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The Green New Deal: What it is, What it isn’t, and What now?

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been in the news a lot lately. Aside from questionable stories about her clothing and her dancing abilities, the main item of substance has been her signature policy: the Green New Deal (GND). Though the concept has existed in one form or another since 2006, typically championed by the Green Parties of Europe and the United States, it came rocketing to headlines when the Congresswoman joined a sit-in protest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. This iteration of the GND was born in response to a lack of action on climate change by leaders of both parties in Congress and recently has been introduced as HR 109 in the House of Representatives. But what exactly is it? And what do we do with it?

What it is

Currently, the Green New Deal is a statement of purpose; a recognition of the need to combat climate change, and of the fact that doing so fast enough to prevent serious damage will require massive systemic changes. It divides neatly into two sections: the preamble and the resolutions. The first contextualizes the problem of climate change with the findings of the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and noting economic issues such as inequality, the erosion of labor power, and how all of this disproportionately affects marginalized people. The second recognizes the duty of the Federal Government to fix all these problems, notes the big picture projects that the mobilization calls for, and states some guiding principles that the Government should follow in doing so.

Besides the already enormous task of saving the environment and safeguarding it for future generations, the Green New Deal is also essentially a progressive mission statement. Not only does it recognize directly the issues of income inequality and failure to protect workers, but it also contains calls for many other progressive policies, from universal healthcare to minimum to racial justice to tribal sovereignty. It even a guaranteed living-wage job for anyone who wants one to help mobilize the transition. If there is one thing you could call the Green New Deal, it would be “ambitious.”

What it is not

However, the Green New Deal as it stands right now is very much an aspirational document. While it would officially recognize the duty of the government to address the above issues, for the most part, it does not go into detail about the actual policies through which to do so. It is something of a blueprint; a skeleton onto which actual specific policies will be built. To flesh out the dozens of policies that will be involved, the House has created a Select Committee on the Green New Deal, though the committee has been criticized by some as too weak, and some have pointed out the unfulfilled demand that Representatives who take campaign money from the fossil fuel industry not be seated on the Committee. At any rate, the Green New Deal will not have the force of law any time soon.

What now

Despite the package being nowhere close to ready for voting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) brought the resolution to a vote in the Senate recently, attempting to tie Democrats to a position he thinks will end up being politically unpopular. To avoid this, Democratic leadership encouraged Senators to vote “present” instead of taking a stance, and with 3 defections from Democrats, the final count was 57-0 opposed. Though polling suggests that perceptions of the Green New Deal are narrowly positive, many still have not formed an opinion, and it may be a while before it becomes relevant. For now, making sure it doesn’t die in committee will be the main task for House Democrats involved in the process. Until the election in 2020 gives us an opportunity to retake the Senate, that is more or less the limit of what can be done.

By: Patrick Litke


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