Sen. Amy Klobuchar, like all but two Senate Democrats, chose this week to vote “present” on the Green New Deal – the anti-climate change infrastructure plan put forward by progressive Democrats.
Now, the Minnesota Democrat and presidential candidate, has released a concrete infrastructure plan that focuses less on transforming the country in the face of the existential threat of climate change and more on the immediate, everyday pain of congestion and threat of dangerous roads.
Progressives in the party like freshman New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez see an existential threat from climate change and emissions that must be addressed boldly and immediately.
Klobuchar, meanwhile, who is charting a moderate, problem-solver course, is looking for funding to put money in the Highway Trust Fund, which was created in 1956 to preserve Eisenhower’s highway system and funded largely by gas taxes that have fallen short in recent years.
“America needs a President who will get things done and pass progressive policies that keep our country moving,” Klobuchar says in the Medium post announcing her plan. She doesn’t mention the Green New Deal in the plan, but she does contrast her proposal with President Donald Trump’s long-promised, not-yet-executed idea to invest in US infrastructure.
Trump’s proposals to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to fix roads and bridges, airports and schools, have not gotten off the ground, but they’ve always felt like the greatest opportunity in his agenda for bipartisan agreement.
Trump’s, unlike Klobuchar’s and other Democratic plans, would use a much smaller investment of federal dollars to try and spur investment from state and local governments.
But Klobuchar’s proposal to upgrade roads and bridges is clearly more in line with his proposal focused on roads, bridges and airports, than with the Green New Deal goal of “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible.”
The first priority she lists and more than half the money ($650 billion) she’d spend is focused repairing crumbling roads and bridges, the taxpayer-funded veins on which gas guzzling American automobiles and trucks pulse, idle and spew planet-heating greenhouse gases.
Infrastructure vs. social change
It’s true that these are very different types of political proposals. The Green New Deal is much more than an infrastructure plan. Athough it does briefly mention infrastructure it doesn’t use the words “road” or “bridge.” While Klobuchar is talking about fixing crumbling roads, the Green New Deal is a call to think beyond roads altogether and transform the way Americans live.
The Green New Deal envisions a massive overhaul – it’s not exactly clear how! – to force the country toward zero-emissions vehicles, while the bulk of Klobuchar’s first big proposal is one that upgrades the status quo rather than wrecking it.
The Green New Deal wants to make high speed rail so prevalent that air travel is no longer necessary. Klobuchar mentions high speed rail, but she’s also going to fix up American airports.
The Green New Deal envisions a unionized American workforce making a real living wage. Klobuchar envisions adhering to existing law that requires contractors and subcontractors to pay overtime.
The Green New Deal wants to upgrade every building in the country to make them more energy efficient. Klobuchar wants to upgrade schools to make learning environments better. She promises a housing plan soon.
There are similarities in tone. Both the Green New Deal and Klobuchar’s plan would do things like overhaul the electrical grid and invest in high speed rail, but the scale and emphasis on those elements is more pronounced in the Green New Deal.
A “sham” vote on Green New Deal
When Senate Republicans forced a vote on the Green New Deal this week, Democrats in the chamber took a pass. They all voted present, which allowed them to dismiss the event as a sham, designed by Sen. Mitch McConnell to get the Democrats on the record endorsing the list of progressive ideas.
When nearly every Democrat voted “present,” it also allowed the handful of Senate Democrats to not actually vote on the proposal, which has become something of a litmus test for some progressives while at the same time being the main piece of evidence cited by Republicans and Trump that Democrats are embracing socialism.
Klobuchar semi-endorsed the Green New Deal back in February when she said she would vote for it while at the same time suggesting it wasn’t a concrete plan.
“I see it as aspirational, I see it as a jump-start,” Klobuchar told Fox News back in February. “So I would vote yes, but I would also, if it got down to the nitty-gritty of an actual legislation as opposed to, ‘oh, here are some goals we have,’ that would be different for me.”
Now Klobuchar has herself gotten into the nitty gritty, proposing a concrete infrastructure plan that starts, not with climate change, but with concrete.
Klobuchar is testing more than voters’ love for roads and cars. She’s also testing whether people want big promises like the Green New Deal or something in the middle.