Last Tuesday, Johns Hopkins University hosted Congressman Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss) to speak to the College Republicans and College Democrats, as well as a handful of students from surrounding institutions.
Nunnelee entered the auditorium after the students had filed in and taken their seats. Grinning, he made his way through the room, extending his hand to various students. As he moved fluidly through the crowd, he stopped to chat with some, asking: What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you study? After a brief introduction, Nunnelee approached the podium and his soothing southern drawl began to echo through the room.
Though Nunnelee was invited to Hopkins to discuss US energy policy, he took the opportunity to share his views on a variety of issues. He started by telling his reasons for running for Congress. He said that becoming a grandfather compelled him to run. “The reasons for saying no were outweighed by the obligation to pass on a better life to my children and grandchildren,” he said, “the country was slipping away from us.”
Like many of the other 96 freshman members of the House, Nunnelee succeeded in defeating the incumbent and won himself a seat as Representative for Mississippi’s first congressional district. After a few more anecdotes about his personal history and ascension to US Congress, the policy portion of his speech began.
According to the Congressman, he and his fellow Republicans in the House are the face and voice of the Republican Party and it is their mission to first and foremost correct the “failure of the previous Congress to cut spending and balance the budget.” Nunnelee correctly asserted that excessive government spending puts a “severe strain on economic growth and saddles [future generations] with massive debt,” unfortunately he failed to both pinpoint which expenditures he believed to be “excessive” or provide an operative plan for how reduce the debt. Instead, the congressman suggested that he wanted “congressional Democrats to come to the table and show real signs of commitment to limiting spending,” at which point he would consider raising the debt ceiling.
When it came to US energy policy, the lack of a realistic agenda was even more alarming. Nunnelee urged complete energy independence by 2020. Okay, awesome, but how? “By beginning aggressive drilling throughout the US.” I raised the point that even if the government gave the green light for large-scale drilling in the Dakotas, Alaska, the Gulf, and other coastal regions, that still wouldn’t provide enough oil to cover all of America’s energy needs. Nunnelee countered, asserting that with Canada’s “abundant” fossil fuel reserves “it would probably be enough.” Even if this were an accepted and feasible assumption (it’s not) Canada isn’t in the United States, so how exactly would relying on Canadian fossil fuels make us “completely energy independent within the next decade”?
Nunnelee recommended that the U.S. “actively expand development of nuclear power” to advance energy independence and security. Yet when I asked him about his plan to deal with nuclear waste (i.e. re-open Yucca Mountain), he responded, “I dunno, we’ve gotta figure out a way to deal with it. I don’t have an answer for you right now.” Promoting development of nuclear power with absolutely no plan for storage of radioactive waste does not constitute a policy agenda… it is an ideal.
And therein lies the problem with the Republican majority in the House, if not the entire Republican Party today: lots of valid criticisms, even more laudable goals, but only hazy plans for action.