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The Democrats’ dilemma

Posted January 19, 2007

As the Democrats plow through their 100-hour agenda, taking the country in a new direction on everything from the minimum wage to funding stem cell research, the president is on a tear of his own.

For voters who hoped electing Democrats would mean a new direction for the Iraq War, and preferably one that means bringing home troops and getting them out of a civil war, their ire is well-placed on the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Pres. George W. Bush.

Whether that ire should be placed at the feet of Democrats is still too early to call, but it’s clear that they may have to make some short-term unpopular decisions, like cutting off some war funding, if they want to achieve their long-term goals of troop redeployment and withdrawal.

Whether they have the stomach to make those hard choices remains to be seen.

Of course, without Democrats in power, the country would have no recourse against an increasingly unsupported and unpopular war — one that nearly 75 percent of those recently polled thought was going poorly. Most of them also believe we should get out of Iraq.

Interestingly, some in Washington see the newfound power of Democratic control to be the great equalizer in the equation of Bush and the rest of the world, if not certainly a majority of people in this country.

Take for example, Sen. Bernie Sanders. In announcing his plan to re-introduce legislation aimed at combating global warming, Sanders said Pres. Bush would invite his own peril, and that of Republicans, by vetoing any strong action by Congress that is contrary to his administration’s agenda, especially in the area of climate change.

Given Bush’s unwillingness to listen on the Iraq War, having faith that he will listen to the people when it comes to climate change seems to be quite a leap.

Bush cares little for what Congress, or the rest of us, think, for that matter. If he was really listening to either the voters on Election Day 2006 or members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, or even moderate Republicans who are now “leaving the ranch” as Sanders noted, “the change in course” would not be adding troops in Iraq.

For Bush, it’s all about the unitary executive, rather than a sharing of power among three branches. He’s an historical revisionist who believes the power of the presidency trumps all else, including the U.S. Constitution.

As Watergate taught us, no person is above the law, not even the president. And, the power any public official is granted flows from the Constitution, not the other way around.

It’s not size, it’s power

File this one under the category of right idea, wrong approach. Faced with coming up with new ideas to help confront global warming, lawmakers decided to float an idea that would put in place a surcharge. A better approach would be to focus on the real culprit — energy consumption.

Take, for example, the NRG Systems headquarters in Hinesburg. This state-of-the-art, 46,000-square foot manufacturing plant and office building has only a regular household utility line connecting it to the main power grid.

Even Jeffrey Hollender, the founder and CEO of Seventh Generation, was lauded for building a multi-thousand square-foot “green” home that uses less purchased electricity than the average home a fraction the size.

Rather than focus on the size of a home, likely to correspond to the size of the occupant’s bank account and perceived ability to pay higher taxes, instead perhaps we can set some basic energy pricing standards for the amount of energy used, making larger consumers pay a higher price for power. Or, make new homes face south to take advantage of passive solar.

This would give larger power users a greater incentive to build their homes with sustainable energy sources in mind, such as smaller wind or solar.

Several states utilize progressive energy pricing, including California, which sees some of its larger customers topping out at 48 cents per kilowatt hour. In Massachusetts, big users top out at 20 cents per kilowatt hour — both prices are a strong incentive to invest in wind, solar, and other renewables.

Simply taxing something because of its size does nothing to achieve the long-term goal of getting more of our current power resource dollars diverted into power sources that are truly green and sustainable, and giving them an equal footing in the marketplace.