GOP vs. EPA: Opinion Focus with Eugene Robinson

Sep 06, 2011

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson discusses his recent columns and the latest news in a live Q&A.

Related: In a cloud over ozone

Hi, everyone. Welcome to our weekly discussion. Well, it's the first day of school! Or the first day of the year... or something like that. The day after Labor Day always has that New Beginning feel to it. For President Obama, given this morning's slew of ugly poll data, it can't feel like a very good beginning. But let's wait for the jobs speech on Thursday. I think the campaign is about to begin.

I am far from a firm believer that the president should dig his heels in and refuse to budge, but is President Obama ever going to stand firm on anything his base wants? Not closing Guantanimo, the public option, allowing tax cuts to continue, the environment... these are just a few of the things he said he was going to do and yet he pretty much crumbled like a house of cards. Is he basically gambling that we will all show up next November and re-elect him because the other guy is too scary? What happened to the "Good one-term president" because right now he's being a bad one...

Gee, you must have had a bad commute this morning. I mean, he did pass a health care law that Democrats have wanted to enact for at least 60 years. And he did get rid of bin Laden. I've been critical of some of the president's actions, but it's not as if he's been loafing.

It seems perfectly legitimate to question the costof enviornmental regulations, but one thing I never heard mention in criticsm of the EPA, and environmental regs in general, is health. The implication is that a clean environment is a nice thing to have, but not a necessity. What constitutes an acceptable health risk when easing regulations on air and water pollution, etc. is not likely to be mentioned in this week's GOP debate. I grew up in L.A. and remember the health effects of smog being questioned (and there are still those who say it's all well and good to limit pollution but that jobs come first-- no mention of health).

You're referring, I think, to my latest column (published Sunday) about President Obama's decision to nix new ozone rules that EPA was about to implement. The health benefit from environmental legislation is an enormous factor -- and, for you fiscal hawks, it is an amazingly effective way to curb the national debt. Health care costs are the main driver of federal spending, and smart environmental policy makes us healthier -- and keeps us out of the emergency room.

What do you think about Obama's poll numbers regarding the economy? Do you think this is the beginning of the end of his presidency?

The problem with the whole "beginning of the end" scenario is that it ignores the much lower approval ratings for Congress (his adversary on economic policy) and the fact that he still beats Romney and Perry head-to-head. Why would anyone (except, maybe, billionaires) be happy with the current state of the economy? Obama gets blamed because he's the guy in charge. But the public seems to have even less faith in his opponents.

Contrary to wrong opinions of those who don't want the US economy and jobs creation to improve before the 2012 election, the 1st stimulus worked through March 2011 as confirmed by the My 2011 CBO report "Estimated Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Employment and Economic Output". The US economy would be worse today without the ARRA. As of July 11, 2011 only $666 billion of the stimulus was spent: 43 percent was spent on tax cuts for individuals and businesses; 19 percent went to state governments, primarily for education and Medicaid; and 13 percent paid for government benefits to individuals such as unemployment and food stamps. The remainder, about 24 percent, was spent on projects such as infrastructure improvement, health information technology and research on renewable energy. That CBO report is at: http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/121xx/doc12185/05-25-ARRA.pdf

Thanks. The GOP has managed to make "stimulus" a dirty word, which is incredibly short-sighted. One of these days (in, say, 20 years or so) there will be a Republican president, and he or she might encounter a recession, and it might be necessary to boost government spending to take up the slack left behind by the sagging private sector. The Obama stimulus wasn't an object of beauty, but unquestionably it worked.

Please help me understand the mind set of the GOP/TP. Don't they remember smog, burning rivers, contaminated food and land? Do they think today's clean air, clean water and safe food happened because the various industries saw the light all on their own? Is the response to "job killing EPA" "CLEAN WATER"? Do their "job killing" bumpersticker slogans have any validity?? I think not.

The environment used to be a bipartisan issue. Now, it appears that unless you want to be dismissed as a RINO, you have to hate clean air, clean water and critters.

Teamster President Hoffa urging his followers to violence "Take out those SOBs?", VP Biden referring to Tea Party supporters as "Barbarians" (I guess he toned it down from his previous characterizaiton of "Terroists"), or the print edition of the Post failing to report on both above comments? Tell me again about that unbiassed new reporting team you have working there!

The "SOBs" reference was outside the bounds of civil discourse, but there was nothing at all wrong with Hoffa's "take out" comment IN CONTEXT. Fox News, Drudge and others conveniently fail to note that the offending sentence came immediately after Hoffa had urged his followers to get out and vote. Unless you consider voting against Republicans a violent act, it was not an incitement to violence by any stretch of the imagination. As for Biden't "barbarians" reference, well, I don't think he'd get too offended if you called him a barbarian right back.

Is it that the GOP is so tied in with industries that they focus on EPA as the source of all evil? I think environmental legislation has prompted huge innovation in science and creativity. Industries that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to environmental consciousness are now bragging about how environmental conscious they are. Do they really want to deal with 50 state EPAs? Reagan learned this one when he tried to shut EPA down - even industry told him to knock it off, that they'd rather deal with one EPA than 50! Do the GOPers assume they'll control all states too?

It's madness, it really is. Yet this, apparently, is the kind of state-by-state environmental regulation that Rick Perry and perhaps others in the GOP field would like to see (assuming they are willing to accept any environmental regulation at all). So what happens when one state's dirty air drifts over another state? Or when a river full of one state's filth refuses to respect borders and flows into another state? Call out the militias? Secession? It's crazy.

Are there pro-business Republicans who are being frightened off by the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party who now may feel more comfortable reelecting Obama than with such candidates as Perry, Paul, Bachman, Palin, Santorum,and Cain?

Anecdotally, I can tell you that there are plenty of Republicans -- including former officeholders -- who are frightened by the evolution of the party and who would never vote for one of the candidates you named. But they are not driving the train, at this point.

Can you comment about the relationship between development/implementation of Green Jobs and the current GOP-driven EPA witch hunt? Jobs where mechanics retrofit pollution controls on smokestacks and vehicles are jobs that cannot be outsourced. Installing solar panel and green roofs here, in the USA, are jobs that cannot be outsourced. There are plenty of other examples where jobs can be created through environmental regulation, and the outcomes are American JOBS, healthy environments, and healthy PEOPLE. Seems to me the real story (published in the WA post in August) is that American corporations exported 2.9mill jobs and created 2.4 mill jobs overseas. Those jobs aren't coming back to these shores, and those corporations are more concerned about maximizing their profits than being "American". http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/corporations-pushing-for-job-creation-tax-breaks-shield-us-vs-abroad-hiring-data/2011/08/12/gIQAZwhqUJ_story.html

I'd comment, but I think you just did. Thanks.

Isn't the real problem in Washington, and in the states, the voters who have chosen the idiots and incompetents now in power? Is there any hope of a better electorate in the future? I can only see the problem getting worse.

Take a deep breath. Now exhale. These are the same voters who gave Democrats and their progressive agenda sweeping victories in 2006 and 2008. Voters are unhappy, impatient, anxious and volatile. There are plenty of reasons why. Political leaders need to connect with the voters, not wish they'd just go away -- because they won't.

The current crop of GOP contenders make James G. Watt (of "I don't like to paddle, and I don't like to walk" notoriety) look like a moderate. I never thought I would long for the likes of Nixon when it comes to environmental responsibility in politics!

Most of the GOP candidates make virtually all pre-Reagan Republicans look like moderates -- not just on the environment but on many issues. The party has shifted light-years to the right.

...for those opposed to President Obama to not want things to improve economically in the US before the 2012 election is decided? Otherwise, good Americans would want the President & Congress to discuss, negotiate & come to agreement on a compromise plan that benefits the US asap!

I think that would be an unpatriotic and ultimately self-defeating attitude. The one thing that's clear about politics right now is that both parties and essentially all elected officials are on probation. Voters seem ready to fire those seen as non-performers. The GOP majority in the House has lower ratings than the president does, by a long shot.

If the GOP nominates a Tea Party type Presidential-VP slate in 2012, for whom do you think moderate Republicans will vote -- the Republicans no matter who they are, or Obama/Biden, a third-party slate -- or will a lot of these moderates just stay home?

A lot of those moderate Republicans will spend some time wishing that Jon Huntsman would enter the general election campaign as an independent. Barring that, I think most of these folks will stay home.

If Gov Perry finds it necessary to leave the campaign trail to put out fires does this mean if he's elected he'll need to focus on one issue at a time and give up chewing gum too ?

There are many, many reasons to excoriate and make fun of Rick Perry. This isn't one of them, however. Those fires in Texas are serious and he was right to go home.

You were way too dismissive of the first questioner. I'm a Democrat, I spent hours on Obama's 2008 campaign and donated hundreds of dollars to it, and to say I've been disappointed in the guy is an understatement. He simply doesn't fight for anything. His only sacred cow is to give his opponents a sizeable portion of what they want, regardless of how absurd their demands might be. I know many fellow professionals who feel the same way. Sure I'll vote for him in 2012 because I already know that whoever will run against him is certifiable, but that's a very precarious position to be in. You should be able to do more than simply say "vote for me because the alternative is worse."

Look, I've written column after column complaining that the president should fight harder for this or stand firmer on that. I stand by those columns -- especially the ones criticizing his negotiating strategy, which gives up too much at the outset. But any honest look at his record sees a progressive agenda and a set of real accomplishments. I don't see how you can dispute that.

I am brown, I am female, I am queer. Please trust me, fellow liberals, when I say that Obama is no Republican. This dude ends DADT, enacts massive reforms on the health insurance industry (including forcing insurers to cover birth control pills and preventative care with no copays--this is a first, and given the cost of birth control pills and some other women's health care issues, this is huge news for about half the adult population), enacts legit financial regulation reform, forms a consumer protection agency, and does all this even with opposition within his own party--and somehow he's a Republican? Please, y'all, come back to Earth. Yes, he's a moderate, not a liberal, especially when you look at his foreign policy actions. But have the people making these allegations seen what the GOP is these days? As for not closing Guantanamo, take that up with the Democrats who denied Obama any funding to do so back in May 2009 when he first asked. You know, people like Inouye, Feingold, Boxer...

Well said.

Actually, I don't know what Rick Perry did, or could've done, to help the firefighting situation by going home to Texas. It's just a gesture intended to garner positive media attention.

By that standard, no official would ever visit the scene of any disaster. If you're a governor and out-of-control fires have burned hundreds of houses in your state, you go home. That's part of your job.

Could he do a third party and be successful? I am a Dem, and would vote for him.

My simple answer is no. Third-party candidacies don't work. (That absolute rule will be true until someday a third-party candidacy succeeds.)

If as indicates CBO confirms the ARRA worked, why do folks in the Press and on TV allow Republicans to get away with repeating the 1st stimulus didn't work? That referred to CBO report looks pretty convincing to me.

Good question. When I'm on TV, I always point out that the stimulus worked. But maybe that's just me.

 

And, definitely, that's my alloted time for today. Thanks for participating, everyone, and I'll see you again next week.

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Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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