Troll fest: Obama administration now picking a fight with Republicans over Alaska drilling

The White House’s Troll Fest, 2015 continues apace.

In fact, if you are getting the impression by now that the Obama administration has no higher priority than provoking fights with Republicans, you’re probably right.

On Sunday, the White House leaked a proposal to The Washington Post in which the administration revealed plans to make the 1.4 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and parts of the Arctic Ocean off limits to drilling. Some of this can be accomplished via new regulations administered by the Department of the Interior, but not entirely. They have also proposed additional restrictions on oil exploitation in Alaska that will require congressional support. That will spark a fight with Republicans and, specifically, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

While Congress would have to approve any new wilderness designation, Interior will immediately begin managing the iconic area under the highest level of protection the federal government can offer. Democrats and Republicans have fought for 35 years over how to manage ANWR, which boasts significant petroleum reserves but also provides critical habitat for calving caribou, millions of migrating birds, polar bears and other Arctic wildlife.

“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” said Murkowski, who spoke to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about the department’s plan during a brief phone call Friday, in a statement. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory… I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, said in a statement he may be forced to accelerate oil and gas permitting on state lands to compensate for the new federal restrictions.

There it is. If the White House really hopes to protect the Alaskan wilderness from the effects of drilling, this announcement will have the opposite effect. Of course, Alaska’s wilderness is not the administration’s primary concern.

The most recent polling on the issue – and this White House doesn’t make coffee in the morning without poll testing it – clearly indicates the audience the administration is trying to reach. A poll conducted by Morning Consult in November indicates that 50 percent of the public approves of opening ANWR up to drilling. That includes the vast majority of Republicans and a plurality of independents. Guess which group disapproves of this proposal?


Shortly after this report was published, the White House pushed out a YouTube video featuring the president waxing gauzy over the pristine Alaska wilderness.

“I’m going to be calling on Congress to make sure that they take it one step further,” Obama said. “Designating it as a wilderness so that we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.”

That’s the important part. Any issue that can be used to spark a fight with Republicans in order to create contrasts with Democrats ahead of the 2016 election cycle seems to be on the table for this White House. The 114th Congress will not be restricting future oil exploitation in this massive and virtually uninhabited area of the country anytime soon. This is just another opportunity to mobilize the dispirited liberal base amid a contrived policy fight.

This White House does seem to enjoy substituting provocation and agitation for governance. How else do you interpret Obama’s proposed “free college” plan? It is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist; federal Pell grants cover access to community college for most low-income students already. Obama’s plan for new student aid, most of which is left to the states to provide, would primarily go to those who can already afford the expense. To pay for this extravagance, Obama proposes to tax 529 savings plans and to punish those families with the foresight to save for their child’s college education. This is obscene. It has no hope of passing Congress, and is designed only to agitate the “soak the rich” liberal base.

How else do you interpret Obama’s plan to force businesses with entry-level employees to offer universal paid leave? “Ironically, right after demanding that businesses add paid sick leave, the president bemoaned falling wages,” Mary Katharine accurately observed. “Again, the more mandates you add, the more potential pay gets funneled to take care of those costs instead of giving them directly to an employee who could then choose to spend them as she pleased.” She further noted that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that access to paid leave is increasing as individual businesses perform a cost/benefit analysis that only they can accurately execute.

“It’s not exactly that this is a solution looking for a problem, but it’s a ridiculously gigantic and expensive solution to a problem that is increasingly being solved by Americans on their own,” she closed.

This is the president’s approach to governing: Create fissures, sow dissention, pit Americans against one another in the hopes that Democrats ultimately benefit. There is, however, reason for optimism. Despite a scorched earth reelection campaign in which Obama and his allies sought to ignite civil conflict and inspire resentment between minorities and whites, women and men, and old and young, the country stubbornly refuses to tear itself apart.

If anything, this supremely cynical strategy has the potential to backfire. If Obama’s various positioning statements forces Hillary Clinton, or the eventual Democratic nominee, to embrace these liberal wish list proposals, she risks moving too far to the left for the American public. What’s more, after eight long years of conflict, America hungers for a uniting figure – someone Barack Obama promised to be but never was.

While exacerbating divisions in the electorate is a cynical approach to politics, a fair observer must concede that it is also clever one. The trouble for the White House is that it may end up being too clever by half.

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