‘What I did on my summer vacation’ — by Congress
Tonya Ricks for GristWhile most Americans spent August working, taking Facebook quizzes, or using some of our hard-won vacation days (we get 17 days a year, on average), members of Congress spent the month on recess. They tacked on a chunk of September for good measure, returning to work on Tuesday.
It’s true they endured some nasty town hall meetings during their vacation, but lawmakers still got off too easy. So we gave them a homework assignment, asking them to describe “What I did on my summer vacation.”
Because brevity isn’t a strong suit for most politicians, we condensed when necessary.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee: This summer I promoted my novel. Seriously! It’s a political thriller, and it’s thrilling. I also did some fundraising for my election in 2010. Then I remembered the whole country (and the whole world) needs me to move a climate change bill through the Senate. So I boldly announced that I would delay introducing a bill until later this month.
Sen. John Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee: I was going to do all this stuff to promote a climate bill, but then I had this hip surgery, which pretty much made it the worst summer since that Swiftboating thing. I did some blogging instead. Then I remembered the whole country (and the whole world) needs me to shepherd a climate change bill through the Senate. So I boldly announced that I would delay introducing a bill until later this month.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican on Finance Committee: It was a busy summer! First I spread some untruths about death panels. Did you know us deathers have a secret handshake? Then I made it clear I’m more concerned with China and India’s climate-change plans than my own country’s. Then, in my down-home folksy way, I denied that humans are causing climate change. If anyone’s hoping Republican leaders like me will join a reasonable discussion about a climate plan, I’ve got a saying that we use on the farm, “Hell no!”
Sen. James Inhofe, ranking Republican on Environment and Public Works Committee: As the Senate’s lead climate-change denier, I argued this summer that “cap-and-trade is a great big tax that will raise electricity prices on consumers, enrich Wall Street traders, and send jobs to China and India–all without any impact on global temperature.” But I don’t believe greenhouse gases have any impact on global temperature. So I’m not relevant. Can I go outside and play now?
Photo illustration by Tonya Ricks / for GristRep. Henry Waxman, chair of Energy and Commerce Committee: What did I do with my August vacation? Whatever I damn well felt like. You’ll remember that I led the House in passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act in June. That’s a really big deal. After that battle, I deserved a rest. So I went paddle boarding.
Sen. Tim Johnson: Whoosh! That’s the sound of South Dakota wind blowing by, which I love because it can bring renewable energy to my state. I might even vote for a climate bill that includes renewable programs to help South Dakota. Democratic leaders must love that, because rural Democrats like me will crucial to passing a climate bill.
Sen. Harry Reid: Whoosh! That’s the sound of T. Boone Pickens flying into Vegas for my latest clean energy summit. Now it’s back to DC where I’ve got a lot of ornery, rural Democrats to butter up–in my frequently-ineffectual way–if I’m going to get 60 votes for a climate bill. Whatever you want, guys!
Sen. Max Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee: As chair of the Finance Committee, I demand a say in writing a climate bill. I also demand a say in the health care bill, which I’m basically killing through delays. Since I’m not moving anywhere fast on health reform (vacation, you see), I’m making it less and less likely Congress will have time for a climate bill by Dec. 7, when the Copenhagen climate change conference begins.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln: Unlike my colleagues who are forgetting to report on their summer vacations, I took my kids to the beach to make sand castles. We ate snowcones. Then I joined three Democratic colleagues in calling for an energy bill that does not include a cap-and-trade program or a limit on carbon dioxide emissions. How’dya like that, Harry Reid?
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chair of Energy and Natural Resources Committee: Nobody seems to remember, but my committee passed an energy bill in June with a solar- and wind-friendly renewable electricity standard. We could always start with this and worry about an emissions cap later. Green groups hate this idea, but it’s better than nothing, right? Oh, and I spent my August vacation listening to New Mexicans air their concerns. It was enjoyable and informative. Meeting with citizens is my favorite part of the job. Kill me.
We also asked a few big names outside of Congress for reports on their summer. Wouldn’t you know it, they responded.
Van Jones, ex-White House Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation: I don’t want to talk about it.
Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator: I didn’t have time to visit the Jersey Shore because I was busy finishing up the EPA’s finding that carbon dioxide pollution endangers public health. Here’s what the bureaucratic process means: This is your chance, Congress. If you don’t regulate global warming pollution, the EPA will.
Sarah Palin, private citizen: I meant to take a long vacation, but I quit it halfway through because vacationing would be just more politics as usual. Instead, I wrote an opinion column for this new public policy journal, Facebook, which is only slightly more selective than the Washington Post op-ed page.
Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA: I helped lead a coalition calling for the Senate to set tougher greenhouse-gas limits than the House version of the climate bill included. See, the House version isn’t nearly strong enough for what scientists say we need to avert catastrophic change.
James Hansen, Director of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA: I spent my summer with a group trying to destroy the cap-and-trade bill because I think a carbon tax is better. You might be thinking my political smarts don’t match my scientific wisdom, because it would be next to impossible to start over with a new bill at this point. You might be right.
Barack Obama, President of the United States: Looking back, I realize August was an off month for me. I vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard but didn’t use the opportunity to promote the area’s potential for offshore wind energy. I’ve barely even talked about climate change and clean energy lately. That’s going to change. Starting now, climate change is back on my agenda. The Senate and the American people will be hearing from me about it. And I’ll book a ticket to Copenhagen too. (Please. Mr. President, make this one come true!)