Get ready for divided government, again

October 27, 2016 |

CleantechConservativeBy Douglas L. Faulkner, The Cleantech Conservative
Special to The Digest

As strange as it may seem to rely on “conventional wisdom” in this crazy election cycle, odds are high that whoever wins the White House will face significant resistance in Congress. If elected: Hillary Clinton likely will face at least a Republican House of Representatives, though one that the Speaker will no doubt have his hands full in managing; Donald Trump, given his seemingly head-felt efforts to offend, would seem fated not only to clash with Hill Democrats, but with many Republicans as well – – leadership included.

But the political situation is even worse than that. The battles over the role of government in our economy, our society and our lives won’t end on Election Day. America is divided in so many ways: by ideology, class, gender, education and race, and even by geography. There is a political and economic chasm between the coasts and the interior as well as between urban versus rural sectors. This is reflected in the state capitols, where the GOP has won significant ground during the Obama era, giving the Republicans more control of the governors mansions and the statehouses than has been seen in much of the last century.

And, even if one party does end up controlling the whole federal machinery, both major parties face fractures between their mainstream and their fringes that will not be easily or quickly healed. And, one has to wonder if we are entering an era where third parties and independents will become more and more attractive to those angry at both major parties. So, is it time for the biofuels industries to throw in the towel while wringing their hands over even more gridlock in Washington, D.C., hoping to wait out the turmoil? Well, maybe not.

To be sure, it would not be crazy to bet on a corrupted, incompetent Byzantium-on-the-Potomac to win, place and show for the next few years. If Hillary Clinton indeed is sworn into office in January, like the polls now indicate, along with at least Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and maybe even Senate Majority Leader McConnell too, gridlock may well be the norm. However, I believe an equally likely scenario is one in which they eventually forge an historic, albeit very cautious, partnership to cement a positive legacy for each leader and move the country forward.

It is clear Hillary will be leading a much more leftist party, with operatives amped up on Senator Sanders’ success and cheering utterances by Senator Warren. But, I contend Mrs. Clinton will come into office with a weak mandate, since both she and Mr. Trump mainly have campaigned highlighting each other’s faults. The irony is that Mr. Trump’s attacks on Speaker Ryan and other top-shelf Republicans may give her wiggle room in negotiating with Hill Republicans.

If this particular window of opportunity does open in the next two years, how should the biofuels industry respond? What does it mean for their messaging and priorities? In general, I would urge industry leaders to see divided government as an opportunity and position themselves accordingly to help close winning deals, clearly enunciating policy positions to appeal to both the center left and the center right majority, to both the rural makers of biofuels and the many more numerous suburban and urban users of them. And, do not begrudge compromise for incremental victories.

This window of opportunity is narrow and industry leaders of all stripes need to understand that their real fight is not over preserving the status quo, but ultimately over growing indifference or even hostility to the fate of biofuels, a rising existential threat. Many are tired of the constant internecine wars between first generation and advanced biofuels; environmentalists and biofuels; Big Oil and Big Ag; internal combustion engines vs electrics vs hydrogen fuel cells, etc. Frankly, current political trends are not favorable for biofuels in the U.S.

So, start with the general – – but somewhat flexible – – support of biofuels by both Clinton and Trump. Build on areas of broad, positive common ground to start to reshape the political battlefield:

  • Renew and expand the national, bipartisan commitment to a bio-future, first enunciated in the Biomass R&D Act of 2000;
  • Strike for early reform of the Renewable Fuels Standard, highlighting: advanced biofuels as insurance against both climate change and a continued rise of oil imports; options for reducing or eliminating EPA control of the process; and, a clear sunset of the mandate to end government interference in the marketplace.
  • Rejuvenate global biofuels partnerships with Brazil and other countries, begun by former President George W. Bush, to expand production in the developing world.
  • Emphasize advancing technology, helping small businesses and improving air quality for the urban poor.
  • Embrace sustainability in all its aspects: economic, social and environmental to undercut the industry’s naysayers.

Is this too rosy or too idealistic – – or, as noted at the outset, a mistaken interpretation of conventional wisdom in a decidedly unconventional election year? Maybe. But, given the volatile, awful election we have just lived through and the mounting problems America faces at home and abroad, it’s worth the gamble. As one experienced former Hill staffer shared, “If you don’t ask, if you don’t push and just simply stay quiet, you make it easier for a Member of Congress, as it is one less thing on the boss’ plate.”

So, let me toss out some unconventional wisdom – – or perhaps political fantasizing: the only better outcome for this writer would be that independent and third-party candidates win enough electoral votes to throw the election into the House of Representatives for that body to pick a different President other than the two main parties’ nominated candidates. Now, that’s dreaming big!

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Category: Thought Leadership

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