The 5 things Congress should be working on

Opinion

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Energy/Climate Change

When it comes to climate change, all of the warning signs are there.  Over the long term—the last century—global temperatures have been rising.  Moreover, we are 95 percent certain the increases are due to human activity.  Meanwhile, the permafrost in Alaska is melting, creating damage to infrastructure and releasing more greenhouse gases into the air—that’s not an opinion, but a reality.  The United Nations says we cannot ignore the issue of climate change, and the head of the OECD association of industrialized countries wants to make the issue a higher priority, with a focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But many evangelicals and Tea Party types in the GOP are climate change skeptics, and one study suggests the issue will replace health care as their central issue, with a focus on “big government regulations” that will hurt business. In light of skeptical and recalcitrant political adversaries—and a divided Republican Party in which some conservatives are proposing a carbon emissions tax that no Republican in Congress will support—Obama has devised his own action plan on climate change outside of Congress, through the use of executive orders.  But some of his proposals will take years to carry out, and he only has until 2016 to make a difference.  Meanwhile, climate change denial is unsustainable, yet GOP skeptics held a hearing anyway.

Last month, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) urged his Obamacare-obsessed colleagues to “stop denying reality” and support the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill.   The legislation, which is endorsed by over 200 organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, would strengthen building codes, require the federal government to use energy-saving techniques and encourage supply chain and manufacturing efficiency.

Restoring Voting Rights Act

When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, it dealt a swift and jolting blow to the civil rights community, particularly African-Americans and other groups with  histories of discrimination and disenfranchisement.

Attorney General Eric Holder has responded by having the Justice Department go after insidious voting restrictions in states such as Texas and North Carolina as a way of fighting patterns of racial discrimination against voters. These voter restrictions and voter ID requirements run the risk of stunting black political representation and reversing the trend of growing civic participation by African-Americans—not unlike the Jim Crow laws, and for the same reasons. This will impact black participation at the city council level, according to a new study.

The Supreme Court eliminated the pre-clearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, which required certain areas of the country with a history of racial discrimination to obtain approval from the feds or a federal judge before changing their election rules and regulations.  Congress could rewrite the formula deciding which jurisdictions should be covered under the Act.  Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) an unlikely civil rights ally, has expressed an interest in reversing the recent Supreme Court decision.  But Sensenbrenner, like fellow Republican Colin Powell, stands alone on this issue among Republicans, as many in their party are in favor of curtailing, not restoring, voting rights, for political gain.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove