April 16, 2024

Senate Dems focus on climate change β€˜alarmism’ in first budget hearing but no sign of budget plan

Democrats this week used the first Senate Budget Committee hearing of the new Congress to talk about climate change, a decision that drew complaints from Republicans who said the committee should focus on producing a budget after it failed to get that job done last year.

The new chairman of the committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has issued dire warnings about a climate catastrophe for several years and has delivered dozens of climate speeches on the Senate floor alongside a poster of planet Earth that says, “Time to Wake Up.”

On Wednesday, Whitehouse convened a Budget Committee hearing on the “Climate-Related Economic Risks and Their Costs to the Federal Budget.” Whitehouse argued that big chunks of the $31.4 trillion national debt were added on because of crisis events like the mortgage crisis and COVID and that the impending climate crisis is another crucial challenge that will likely lead to more debt.

“The reason we’re having this hearing and the reason that we’re going to continue to have hearings on this subject is that $10 trillion of our federal debt can be ascribed to exogenous shocks to our economy with which we had to cope,” Whitehouse said. “It wasn’t cheap, but we had to do it. The biggest exogenous shock on the horizon out there is climate upheaval.”

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But Republicans accused Whitehouse of pursuing a climate agenda in a committee that’s charged with putting together a budget plan, a task that Senate Democrats failed to achieve last year. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Democrats were ignoring the purpose of the committee to make it about one of their favorite pet projects.

“Instead of focusing on the growing national debt, out-of-control deficits or the consequences of our spending addiction, Democrats selected climate change for the topic of their first hearing,” Grassley said Wednesday. While Grassley said the changing environment is a legitimate issue to consider when looking at the federal budget, he added that the Senate has other committees, like Environment and Public Works and Energy and Natural Resources, to deal with climate issues.

“Only the budget committee is tasked with developing a budget,” he said.Β “That ought to be our focus.”

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Other Republicans agreed and accused Democrats of trying to inject “climate hysteria” into every issue.

“The United States is more than $31 trillion in debt,” said committee member Roger Marshall, R-Kan. “This is the true threat to national security that the Budget Committee should prioritize, not the left’s climate hysteria.”

“Let’s not fool ourselves, and most importantly, let’s not fool those we represent, the American people,” added Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, during the hearing. “Our ballooning deficits and burgeoning debt have been driven by and will continue to be driven by runaway profligate spending by the federal government, not because of any effects of climate change. That is a different thing.”

He said Democrats are using “climate alarmism” in order to justify the federal takeover of the U.S. economy.

“It’s my hope that this committee will spend more of its time and effort this Congress deliberating ways to reduce our budget deficits so that we can stabilize our debt while putting our budget on a pathway to balance,” he said.

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Republicans broadly took the hearing as a sign that Democrats are not serious about reining in federal spending, despite broad consensus among many economists that rampant spending during the COVID pandemic juiced consumer demand and led to inflation levels that hadn’t been seen in decades.

Grassley noted that under Democratic leadership in the last Congress, the Budget Committee failed to approve a budget and the Senate didn’t consider any of the 12 annual spending bills that are supposed to be the mechanism by which Congress manages the federal government.

Instead, Congress passed a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill at the end of last year that bumped up federal spending even more, he said.

Grassley said both parties are to blame for the massive national debt but said Democrats played a larger role in ramping up spending during COVID.

“For decades, Congress turned a blind eye as our nation walked toward a fiscal cliff. But Democrats turned that walk into a sprint,” he said.

“In March 2021, Democrats took advantage of an emergency situation to pass a $2 trillion partisan spending bill, even as our economy showed strong signs of recovery. Then as inflation soared to a 40-year high, they doubled down, spending trillions more on their liberal wish lists,” Grassley added.

In the House, the Republican majority is widely expected to pass a budget resolution this year and send it along to the Senate, but it’s not clear if the Senate will try to pass its own. It’s also not clear if the House Budget Committee will wait for President Joe Biden’s budget proposal – which is already late and not expected to arrive until March – or forge ahead on its own.

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