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June 03, 2014 1:30 PM Catch of the Day: Republican Climate Change Shrug

By Jonathan Bernstein

The Catch to Scott Lemieux, who responds to Ezra Klein’s question, whatever happened to Republican support for climate change policy? Lemieux draws a comparison to health care and concludes that the real Republican position always has been to do nothing.

I think the problem here is the word “committed.” Given Republican control of the government from 2001-06, plus (on this issue) a Congress that would have worked with Republicans on climate change in 2007-8, we can have a very good idea of what Republican elites actually favored on climate change. Their actually policy preference on climate change, like their policy preference for health care reform, is “worse than nothing.” The record of the Republican Congress on climate change under George W. Bush was terrible, as was the record of George W. Bush’s EPA. There is less than no chance that a McCain or Romney administration would have issued anything like these regulations.

I’m of two minds on this. The Republican position on both of these issues over the last 20 years is probably closer to indifference than to hostility. It wasn’t so much that they had a serious ideological stand against health-care reform or attacking climate change; they just didn’t really care about either issue. That indifference allowed them to shift their rhetoric, and even their stated policy positions, to whatever appeared to be expedient at the moment. After all, Republicans did move forward on Medicare prescription medications when they had the chance.

All of which helps to explain what Jonathan Chait talked about today: the impressive lack of policy expertise of many Republicans on these issues. You don’t learn about things you don’t care about.

By the way, I think the other-party parallel here is the Democrats on Iraq in the 1990s and early in the George W. Bush presidency. Many Democratic politicians voted for war in 2002, and some of them surely were honestly pro-war. But when Democrats actually had the choice, the Clinton administration didn’t come close to starting a major war in Iraq.

Of course, it’s fair to hold politicians to their stated positions, whether or not they mean them. But if the goal is simply to understand what’s happening, I think Lemieux almost certainly has nailed it. Nice Catch!

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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