A Sensible Grand Bargain Addresses Climate Change

Dean Baker says that people who really care about future generations should be talking about climate change not the national debt.

I couldn’t agree more. But I’d go even further. The structure of the long-term deficit debate goes like this. Democrats won’t agree to major cuts in projected spending on programs for the elderly unless Republicans agree to a “balanced” package that also includes tax increases. But Republicans don’t want to raise taxes on the rich. The sensible compromise would be to raise taxes on the non-rich, but obviously neither party wants to put forward a tax plan that would just lead to them getting clobbered by the opposition. But a Republican who was willing to propose raising additional tax revenue through a substantial carbon tax wouldn’t just get slammed by the full force of the progressive community. Of course some elements of the Democratic coalition wouldn’t like that idea, but others would love it.

I’m not one to go all gaga over grand bargains, but this is the grand bargain that actually makes sense—a proposal that would divide both parties’ core coalitions. Fossil fuel interests wouldn’t like it, but it’s very favorable to the generic rich person. Populist Midwestern Democrats would hate it, but coastal liberals would like it—a plan like that wouldn’t fully address the climate crisis by any means, but it would be a huge step forward.

Is this even remotely likely? No. It’s a pipe dream. But pretty much any kind of grand bargain is more-or-less a pipe dream given the objective structure of incentives. As long as people are going to spend time writing about pipe dreams, this is the one that’s worth talking about.