The Investment in Our Planet That We Need

Kevin McCarthy’s debt ceiling bill would only take us backward

By Ben Jealous

April 27, 2023


Photo by Douglas Rissing/iStock

The theme for the 53rd Earth Day last Saturday was a timely one: Invest in our planet. This country has just begun to do that through the infrastructure and clean energy packages that President Biden and Congress approved in 2021 and 2022.

In the coming decade, we will spend more money transforming our economy than we spent getting astronauts to the moon. We’re moving from an economy that destroys places and people with pollution and climate threats to one that can lift them up everywhere. We have the technology and the demand, and now the federal investment, to power your house for less, to power your car for less, and to create good jobs that will last because they aren’t killing the planet.

Last week, we saw how misguided the opposition is to this commitment to a healthier, safer world powered by abundant sources when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave a speech at the New York Stock Exchange. That’s Ground Zero for private sector investing in this country, if not the world.

McCarthy made clear that he and his colleagues don’t want to begin a renewal of the American economy through cleaner jobs. They want instead to make things easier for the fossil fuel companies that raked in a record $200 billion in profits in 2022.

McCarthy, in fact, said he’s willing to risk the full faith and credit of the United States to extend our reliance on the dirtiest and most volatile energy sources and push even more money into the pockets of Big Oil and Big Gas. He told those investors and financiers in New York that he would tie support for raising the federal debt ceiling—how much we can borrow to pay what we already owe—to a grab bag of giveaways to corporate polluters in their energy package.

He's taking us hostage in this way because he knows that an energy bill will never become law if it undermines long-standing environmental laws that give the public a say in new projects and permits, if it cuts a new program to slow climate change by reducing methane emissions, and if it eliminates help to disadvantaged communities to get the low- and zero-emission technology they want. His bill does all that damage and more.

McCarthy claimed he was looking forward. In truth, what he described will lock us into a gas-powered economy that we can’t afford. The idea that oil and gas companies need more help doesn’t stand up to the facts that fossil fuel corporations made more than ever, and they already have the right to drill in thousands of places that they haven’t used.

Beyond decimating environmental safeguards, the McCarthy plan harms those at the bottom end of the economy with cuts to preschool access, nutrition programs for women and children, and medical care for veterans.

McCarthy and his colleagues try to put a folksy spin on their backward ideas by saying our families must stick to a budget and can’t spend more than they earn, so why should the federal government? But raising the debt ceiling isn’t about new spending; it’s about paying for what we’ve already spent.

A better analogy for what Republicans want to do to the once-in-a-lifetime investment that we’ve agreed to make, and so clearly need, is this: Imagine wanting to get healthy and buying expensive running shoes and a gym membership, then stopping for pizza on the way home from every workout. That’s what would happen if the handouts to dirty corporations ever came to pass.

We’ve given ourselves the chance to transform our economy in ways that will help save the planet. Now we must stand firm against self-interested polluters and politicians who want to threaten us into slowing down.