On Sunday, the now Republican-led Congress confirmed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as head of the subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness. For those of you following along at home, this might seem an unusual choice, seeing as Cruz isn’t really on board with the whole science thing.
You know, you always have to be worried about something that is considered a so-called scientific theory that fits every scenario. Climate change, as they have defined it, can never be disproved, because whether it gets hotter or whether it gets colder, whatever happens, they’ll say, well, it’s changing, so it proves our theory.”
—Ted Cruz, 2014 interview with CNN
Now things get interesting, since the Senate subcomittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness also oversees NASA, which various media outlets excitedly point out was to have its funding cut by Senator Cruz. Now it’s worth noting that the issue at the time had to do with sequestration and what it meant to “approve” a certain level of appropriation versus actually making the appropriation itself. It’s likely that Cruz actually had a point in this case, but he hasn’t bought himself a lot of slack from critics, especially when he makes inane statements like:
“Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 10, 2014
The Worst-Case Scenario
The entirely scary (and somewhat plausible) picture that pundits are painting is that Senator Cruz will bring his climate change-denying, anti-science ideology to the table when making decisions about what to fund and how to proceed, especially when it comes to NASA and the EPA. While people are sensationalizing the NASA/space angle, it’s the impact on environmental protection that should be the most concerning.
This may not be immediately obvious, but NASA actually plays a major role in studying the Earth’s climate and its change over time. Furthermore, they play an active part in trying to explore alternative energy sources and ways to counter the effects of global warming. I wonder what types of people would be against that? Cruz could easily limit funding on this type of work, citing a belief that studying a phenomenon that doesn’t exist is wasteful spending. (This is what happens when your logic is sound but your premises are faulty, folks.)
Additionally, the EPA would also be under Ted Cruz’s jurisdiction, meaning he could further limit restrictions on the drilling for and use of fossil fuels. With a possible uptick in greenhouse gas emission and a concurrent decrease in spending to study the effects, we could find ourselves hurtling blindly toward a climate change point-of-no-return and not even realize it.
The Best-Case Scenario
While the bets case scenario might be that the GOP gets its collective head out of its ass and either embraces science or at least finds leaders who do, let’s assume that’s just way too much wishful thinking. In that case, the best we can probably hope for is that a) Sen. Cruz focuses primarily on tightening up fiscal inefficiencies across the board and b) maintains his stance that “it’s critical that the United States ensure its continued leadership in space.”
If Senator Cruz can keep his influence constrained to general budget management without forcing too many details on how funding can be spent—thereby allowing the scientists to make those calls—and if the White House can veto cases where Cruz and the rest of the GOP pass through legislation that may have long term environmental ramifications, we might still make it through to the end in one piece.
What This Tells Us
No matter what scenario plays out in the coming years, what is already clear is that the Republicans in the 114th U.S. Congress aren’t going to let silly things like data and scientific process get in the way of their real agenda—fighting President Obama and the Democrats on every issue even if it makes them look like a bunch of crazies.
Now I recognize I’m painting with broad strokes here, and I’ll acknowledge that there’s always a spectrum. But it seems that the GOP’s strategy is to just keep moving further and further right (to stir up noisy hardline conservatives and Tea Party members), leaving moderate conservatives with few other options than to follow along (or simply sit out).
This also will be an interesting experiment (not that Cruz and his ilk would know what that means) looking ahead to the 2016 elections. Fighting Obama so aggressively now (when he is no longer eligible to run for reelection anyway) could end up alienating people as the Right backs itself into a corner. If Sen. Cruz (and Sen. Marco Rubio, et al.) ends up botching this whole thing, it will spark and even louder outcry and quite possibly lose an election where they’ll likely be facing a powerhouse in Hillary Rodham Clinton. But on the other hand, if they (against all odds, it would seem) get this right, it could prove a major swing in their favor.