Senator Bingaman: Energy Priorities for the New Congress

As Simon notes below, this coming Monday, January 31 at 12:00pm, NDN and the New Policy Institute's Electricity 2.0 Initiative will host Senator Jeff Bingaman who will deliver his thoughts on Energy Priorities for the New Congress.  To accomodate the tremendous interest in this event, we have moved it to the National Press Club.  As Simon notes, come early to get a good seat.

As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a long term leader on energy issues, there is no person whose views on energy are more important to the national debate on the future of energy policy than Senator Bingaman.  And there arguably is no more pressing time than now to think about our energy priorities, particularly in light of the President's call in the State of the Union earlier this week for America to accelerate clean energy deployment in order to win the future.

Senator Bingaman has played a leadership role in all of the major legislation shaping energy in recent years. Many believe there is an opportunity this year to make historic progress on clean energy and renewable electricity.

The stakes could not be higher.  The United States leads the world in the development of many cutting edge clean technologies like thin film solar.  But we have fallen well behind in measures including integration of wind and solar, percentage of renewable energy, the smart grid and the manufacture of solar panels and wind turbines.  China, Japan and Europe have made clean energy a key priority.  The question is, can the United States combine our R&D, capitalist system, spirit of entrepreneurship and productivity to lead again?  In electricity, can we create a second golden age similar to that of Edison and Tesla? Can we mobilize and empower Americans who want to be involved but who have remained on the sidelines so far to lead this revolution?   

Following the Senator's remarks, we have convened a distinguished panel to discuss the coming legislative session and new energy policy ideas.

Our panelists include:

  • Hon. Tony Knowles, Former Governor of Alaska and President of the New Energy Policy Institue
  • Hon. William Massey, Former Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Stephen Harper, Global Director, Environment and Energy Policy, Intel Corporation
  • Steve Corneli, Snr. Vice President of Sustainability, Strategy and Policy, NRG
  • Michael Moynihan, Director NDN and NPI Electricity 2.0 Project (moderator).

I hope you will join us for this timely event.

Senator Bingaman: Energy Priorities for the New Congress
with Panel Discussion to Follow
Monday, January 31, 2011 - 12:00 Lunch, 12:30 Program Begins
The National Press Club
529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor Washington, DC

How to Sink a Three-pointer Today - Part II

Last week, I offered up some advice for President Obama on how to shape his speech to the joint session of Congress today. Here are a few more pointers, based on the numbers:

Demonstrate that reforming health care will aid or at least not hurt individual Americans or their families. Surveys conducted by both Pew and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation have consistently indicated that at least a plurality of the public (albeit a declining one) believe that current health care reform proposals would help the country as whole. At the same time, voters are not as sanguine about the impact of health care reform on themselves and their family. The recent CBS News survey indicates that 31% believe that current congressional health care reform proposals would hurt them personally, while only 18% say they would help. More specifically, voters are more likely to believe that these proposals would raise (41%) rather than reduce (20%) their health care costs; worsen (34%) rather than improve (19%) the quality of their health care; and, make it harder (37%) rather than easier (13%) for them to see a doctor. Similarly, clear pluralities perceive that these proposals would hurt the middle class (43%), seniors (36%), and small businesses (46%). As has occurred so often during the past four decades, Republicans and conservatives, with Democratic assistance, have managed to define a Democratic initiative as a social program that would aid others to the detriment of average Americans. Given this, it's surprising that the public is not more strongly opposed to what it perceives to be President Obama's and Democratic health care reform proposals than it already is. If he does nothing else, the president must use his speech to inform and convince the public that his health care reform proposals will benefit, or at least not hurt, middle class Americans.

Recognize that he and his party are dealing from a position of relative strength, even on the matter of health care reform, than Congress as a whole or the Republican opposition. Even though President Obama's overall job approval score and his marks for handling health care have trended downward over the past several months, they remain well above those of the other actors in this drama. In the most recent Daily Kos tracking survey, only Barack Obama was rated favorably by at least a plurality of voters (52%). By contrast, only a third have favorable impressions of the two Democratic congressional leaders, Nancy Pelosi (32%) and Harry Reid (31%). Less than one in five are positive about the two GOP leaders in Congress, Mitch McConnell (19%) and John Boehner (15%). Only 39% are favorable toward the congressional Democrats as a whole, while just 18% feel that way about the congressional Republicans.

And, with regard specifically to health care reform, the CBS News survey indicates that by a greater than 2:1 margin (50% vs. 23%) voters believe that President Obama has better ideas than Republicans. This margin has remained consistent throughout the summer.

Moreover, the Democratic Party is clearly the majority party both inside Congress and within the electorate, although some reporters seem to forget this. In commenting about President Obama's speech on the Today Show, Chuck Todd said that the setting on Wednesday evening would be odd because "half of the members will be applauding wildly and the other half will be sitting on their hands." Actually, Democrats comprise about 60% of the members of each House and that 10-percentage point difference is of more than academic importance. Democrats not only have enough members in Congress to make more noise than their GOP counterparts, but their edge is sizable enough to control the legislative process if they are willing and have the courage to use it. 

Meanwhile, out in the country, according to both Pew and Ipsos, about half of the electorate identifies with or leans to the Democratic Party. By contrast, only somewhat more than a third say that they are Republicans or lean that way. This is a far different pattern than it was in 1994, the last time Congress considered health care reform, when equal numbers (44%) identified with each party. This Democratic majority is bolstered by the party's disproportionate strength within emerging and growing demographics-Millennials (voters 18-27), Latinos, Asians, and African-Americans-as well as women, who comprise a slight majority of both the population and electorate. These groups underpinned the president's decisive victory in 2008 and continue to support him, his legislative initiatives (including health care reform), and the Democratic Party to a substantially greater extent than other groups.

Stemming from its status as America's majority party, voters continue to have a far more favorable image of Democrats than Republicans on most issues and government management matters.


Democratic Party

Republican Party



Can do better on issue of...












Health care




Foreign policy




The economy
















Budget deficit








Terrorist defenses




Which party...




More concerned about disadvantaged




More concerned about people like me




Can bring needed changes




Selects better candidates




Governs in more honest/ethical way




Can better manage federal government




More influenced by lobbyists




More concerned about needs of business




Obviously, Congress is constitutionally equal to the executive branch. The president cannot simply dictate to or command it to act in order to win a congressional majority. It would also be a plus if at least a few Republicans supported Democratic health care reform initiatives, although seems increasingly unlikely, something that may ultimately force the president and his party to go it alone. Some compromise will likely be necessary to obtain either or both of those ends. But, in his negotiations to achieve those goals President Obama, his staff, and congressional Democrats should recognize that they do some advantages, among them majority status in Congress, a majority coalition within the electorate, and a far higher level of public favorability than the Republicans. This means the president and Democratic congressional leaders should not have to completely roll over to achieve meaningful health care reform. They will not have to do so if they recognize and work from their current position of strength.

A recent Los Angeles Times article maintains that whatever ultimately happens with current healthcare reform proposals, President Obama has taken the matter further than did Bill Clinton, the last president to make such a concerted effort-or indeed any president has since Harry Truman proposed a national health care program six decades ago. What Barack Obama says next Wednesday and does in the weeks that follow will go a long way toward determining whether he will have to be satisfied with the moral victory of simply exceeding his last Democratic predecessor or go on to win final victory. Clearly and forcefully stating his goals and being willing to take advantage of his political and institutional strengths will put him in position to, at long last, win the health care championship.

Conservative Republicans "Just Say No" Approach Shortchanges Critical Economic, Sotomayor Debates

President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court hasn’t triggered a conservative firestorm yet; and like the dog that didn’t bark in the Sherlock Holmes story, that’s part of a larger pattern affecting policy well beyond the Supreme Court. Granted, partisan conservatives find themselves facing an engaging, activist, Democratic president with very broad public support at his back. So it's unsurprising that most GOP senators are withholding public judgment on Judge Sotomayor's nomination, and even the RNC has taken the tact, haven't found anything on her -- yet. While Newt Gingrich went glibly over the top by calling the Judge a racist, even Rush Limbaugh couldn't manage anything beyond calling her a hack who would be a disaster on the court.

The problem for partisan conservatives is that nobody listens to them except the bare quarter of the country that already agrees with them. The other three-quarters of us are comprised of partisan progressives, often as sure of their opinions as partisan conservatives, and the great plurality of Americans with views about many things but no unvarying, partisan or ideological take on reality. And every American has fresh memories and often personal feelings about the damage left by the recently departed, partisan conservative Administration. So, almost nobody is interested today in hearing about conservative alternatives to the President's policies and decisions.

Eventually, the not-very-partisan or ideological majority of Americans will accumulate some unhappy memories and personal disappointments about the current Administration, and then they'll be more prepared to at least listen to the conservative message. That could take several years, so for now, the Republican's pitiable default position has become: just say no to the most popular president in a generation. The same partisan conservatives who used to advance fairly radical ideas, many of which became Bush Administration proposals, are now reduced to predictable defenders of the status quo, whatever it happens to be.

Economic policy is suffering from this result. The Administration's approach to the financial market crisis, for example, has been properly questioned as not going far or deep enough into the problem by Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Simon Johnson and other progressives (including myself). But questions from the progressive side have little political significance, since no Administration listens to outside advisors once its proposals have gone public, and everyone knows that friendly critics have no place else to go. The alternatives that matter in politics have to come from the opposition. But the Republican position here has been that government should be involved in the crisis as little as possible, which is as close as they can come to a status quo, when the status itself is a disaster. So the public debate never forced the Administration to sharpen its own thinking and further hone its policies. The result is an economic program which might succeed, or, equally likely, could leave us with a financial system and economy that remain weak for years.

As for the debate over soon-to-be Justice Sotomayor, the Republicans are simply cooked. They can't credibly say she isn't up to the job -- the meme on Harriet Miers -- since her academic record is brilliant. They can't credibly say she doesn't have the requisite experience, since she's been a sitting judge longer than any Supreme Court nominee in a century. And they can't credibly call her a radical, since her opinions place her squarely in the center-left territory occupied by the Justice she's replacing. In this last respect at least, she actually represents the status quo that Republicans currently cling to. But their followers won't hear of it. So they're left with another just-say-no message that's certain to further alienate Hispanics, the largest voting group not yet locked in fully to either of the parties, and many women, the largest voting group period. President Obama can rest easy: It's likely to be a long time before most Americans listen to new ideas from conservative Republicans. The rest of us will have to settle for a debate over a Supreme Court nomination that's likely to be as incoherent and enervating as the recent public discussions of the great economic issues of our time. In both cases, it' a genuine shame.

The Economic Logic in President Obama’s Speech to Congress

President Barack Obama's superb address Tuesday night had an underlying, unifying logic which some may have missed, but which hopefully those reading this will recognize.  

First, on the financial and economic crisis, he embraced the three basic steps we have urged since last September: on top of a stimulus aimed at long-term investments and helping the states – that’s now done – there will be new requirements that banks getting help from taxpayers use that assistance to expand their lending, and new steps to keep people in their homes and bring down foreclosure rates. It’s just economic common sense – but that’s precisely what most of official Washington casually casts aside in favor of scoring short-term, political points. (Take a look at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s empty and sneering response to the President’s speech. His repeated citing of Katrina as a model for government action, by itself, should be a career-ending act).

The President also laid out a domestic agenda for the rest of his first term, and it looks like the most sweeping since FDR and LBJ. I suppose that personal blogs, by definition, are no place for humility, so here it is straight. The three cornerstone Obama initiatives -- slow down our fast-rising health care costs, expand energy conservation and our use of alternative fuels, and give everybody new chances to upgrade their working skills -- are the exact prescription laid out more than a year ago in my book, Futurecast: How Superpowers, Populations and Globalization Will Change the Way You Live and Work. It’s also been a regular theme of this blog and a series of papers issued by NDN.  

Here, too, it’s just economic common sense, for a world being transformed by globalization.  The underlying logic of the President’s program springs from the fierce new challenges Americans face under globalization to their jobs and incomes. Globalization has made competition much stronger, and that competition leaves American businesses and their workers in a bind. Their costs have been rising very fast, especially for health care and energy, but intense global competition makes it harder for companies to raise their prices to cover these rising costs. The result is that the wages of most American stopped rising since about 2002, even as they became more productive. And most can’t find higher wages by getting new jobs, because before the current crisis began, the same forces had made this period the weakest for job creation since World War II.

The President understands that coming out of the current crisis isn’t enough, if we just return to another period of growth without wage gains or healthy job creation. He also understands another theme of Futurecast and NDN's work, namely that about half of Americans also need new skills if they aspire to jobs with a real future. That’s the basis for the third plank of the domestic agenda he laid out last night -- genuine, new access for young people to go to college or receive other, post-secondary training, and new opportunities for everyone else to upgrade their skills

President Obama’s first speech to Congress already ranks as the most serious and thoughtful presidential address on the economy in decades. Perhaps it took an historic crisis to break through the political cant and mental laziness that has gripped our economic agenda for so long. But the President is using this moment to put forward not only meaningful answers for the crisis, but serious, long-term remedies for much deeper economic problems which other politicians routinely ignore. That’s presidential leadership of the sort we haven’t seen since, well, FDR.

Waxman Unseats Dingell on Energy and Commerce

Word has just come down that U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (CA-30) has defeated Rep. John Dingell (MI-15) in the race for chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. This will have a dramatic impact on the course of climate change and energy legislation in the 111th Congress.


NDNer Joe Garcia is running for Congress

As a non-partisan think tank and advocacy organization, NDN does not endorse candidates for federal office. But I do want to report in on a race that may be of great interest to many in our community. The long-time director of all of our path-breaking work in the Hispanic community, Joe Garcia, announced yesterday that he is running to unseat Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in the Miami-based 25th Congressional District in Florida.

To check in to see how Joe is doing in his first 24 hours as a Congressional candidate check out this piece (which includes a very good local TV news story about his announcement) and visit his site.

As for the fate of our Hispanic work, look at the posts below about the historic Hispanic participation rates this year. Our new Vice President for Hispanic Programs, Andres Ramirez, is already making his mark with quick and strong analyses, and is, in the language of the day, fired up and ready to go.

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