Bad News for Cynics: Congress Is Working

Against all Beltway-insider expectations, a very closely divided Congress seems to be working. Americans love to complain about the people they send to Washington, but Capitol Hill is actually producing results – including a major COVID-19 and economic rescue plan and progress on bipartisan infrastructure legislation investing in infrastructure.  

Now members of Congress face their most significant test yet: Can lawmakers meet our biggest challenges and deliver solutions bold enough to build a thriving future for America? Can we recapture the courage that shaped the American Century to create millions of jobs, address the unjust threat of pollution, lower costs for families and finally get serious about climate change? 

Congress works best when it responds to the will of the American people. In this case, that’s good news for progress because a recent USA Today/Suffolk University Poll shows most Americans support both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better budget, which is now moving through Congress. A poll from Data for Progress had similar results, revealing that strong majorities in competitive congressional districts support the budget plan – with two-thirds wanting major investments in clean energy.  

Voters understand that the problems facing our nation are changing. One of the most pressing concerns is the real and increasing toll that climate change is taking on our economy through record-setting heat waves, droughts, storms and flooding. There is no question that our most expensive option is to sit by and let it continue with increasing ferocity. Hurricane Ida in the Southeast and the Caldor Fire in the West are just the latest examples of increasingly devastating and costly climate-fueled disasters.  

Americans also understand that building a clean economy brings opportunity – as Biden likes to say, “When I hear the words climate change, I hear the word jobs.” We can revive our economy by building electric trucks, buses and cars and beating Europe and China in this growing market; constructing a modernized electric grid to keep our lights on and incorporate more clean energy; and making buildings more energy efficient. Jobs from construction to services to engineering will be needed – millions of them. 

Studies also indicate that bold action can lower costs for American families. A Texas A&M report showed that congestion costs businesses and consumers more than $100 billion annually. Analyses from the National Renewable Energy Lab and from Rewiring America show cost savings for home energy bills. The Department of Energy confirms that powering your car with electricity is about half the cost of taking it to the gas station.  

The budget and investment plans Congress is considering would make our economy cleaner and stronger, employing workers to cap polluting orphan wells, replacing lead pipes, electrifying our transportation and power systems and so much more. They would accelerate the transition to clean electric power. They would help our country transition to zero-tailpipe-pollution trucks, buses and cars. And they would provide significant investments in climate resilience, nature-based infrastructure and western water infrastructure that has been hard hit by recent historic drought. 

Many young Americans only know gridlock in Washington. With rare exceptions, the last decade has been about stalemate, frustrating voters who see serious problems to be solved. For a long list of reasons, our great democracy – and Congress in particular — has at times bordered on dysfunctional. 

The next few weeks will tell us if we’re going to begin to change. If members of Congress can negotiate their differences and defy the pundits, they’ll have the support of the American people – and remind them that their political leaders still have the courage to do big things, making a better future for all of us. 


Elizabeth Gore is senior vice president, political affairs, at Environmental Defense Fund. 

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