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Why Republicans Want to Keep Free Money Out of Their Districts

The GOP wants to cut 24 clean energy tax credits—that disproportionately benefit Republican districts.

Kevin McCarthy walks, surrounded by reporters.
Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is surrounded by reporters as he leaves the House Floor on April 19 after delivering remarks on the GOP’s debt limit bill.

In exchange for not plunging the world’s largest economy into fiscal ruin, Republicans are demanding the elimination of 24 clean energy and manufacturing tax incentives either established or expanded by the Inflation Reduction Act. The plan is an openly partisan jab at Democrats, an attempt to strip away the party’s core legislative win. Yet it could cost their own districts the most.

Earlier this year, Politico found that two-thirds of the clean energy projects announced since that bill was enacted are slated to happen in GOP-controlled congressional districts. A study by the Rocky Mountain Institute found that the IRA is expected to deliver nearly twice as many subsidies per capita to red states as to blue ones. North Dakota, Wyoming, and West Virginia are at the top of the list.

So why do Republicans want to cut off the spigot? The simple answer is that they’re not accountable for what happens in their districts. Very few politicians are: 84 percent of congressional districts, after all, were either uncontested or won by margins of 10 percent or more in 2022. Thanks to decades of aggressive gerrymandering, GOP lawmakers are accountable to a smaller, more radical base of voters and far-afield corporate donors. All that means that despite the sizable amounts of money flowing into red states from the IRA, Republicans feel pretty empowered to tear the law apart.

Take the face of the debt ceiling fight: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He argues the proposal will “end the green giveaways for companies that distort the market and waste taxpayer money.” An analysis from Bloomberg and the energy analytics outfit Enersection found that McCarthy’s Southern California congressional district ranks first in the nation for ​​planned and operating utility-scale solar capacity; it ranks second for planned and operating wind, solar, and battery buildouts. Those businesses stand to benefit from the incentives McCarthy is going after, but he’s got a big incentive to look the other way: During the last election cycle, he was the House’s top recipient of campaign donations from both the oil and gas industry and gas transmission and distribution firms. Seventy-eight percent of his donations that cycle came from out of state. McCarthy raked in $2.7 million worth of donations from Texas, where the country’s biggest oil and gas companies are headquartered.

Tax credits targeted by the GOP’s debt ceiling package (the “Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023”) include those for wind and solar as well for nuclear energy, renewable energy manufacturing, hydrogen production, and the mining of minerals needed to make batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage.

California won’t be the only state affected. Texas produced more wind power than any other state last year, and the second most solar, after California; it’s on track to be first. Overall, Enersection and Bloomberg found, more than two-thirds of the country’s renewable capacity is in rural areas. More than three-quarters of those places lean Republican.

The fact that congressional races are becoming increasingly uncompetitive makes easy work for right-wingers trying to keep their seats and line up a lush consulting or lobbying gig afterward. However much their voters might like the fact that the IRA is bringing in new investment, many incumbents simply don’t think losing reelection is a real threat. The people who might want to vote out politicians going after the IRA are likely to have already been crowded into districts that reliably elect Democrats.

Adding to that dilemma is the fact that corporations can funnel virtually unlimited amounts of cash to the politicians who do their bidding. In 2020, fossil fuel companies made 13 times as many federal campaign donations as renewables firms, inordinately to GOP candidates. Oil and gas executives, that is, can continue to be a loud voice in the ear of politicians with thriving green energy sectors sprouting up in their own districts.

The GOP is playing a game of chicken with the concept of representative democracy, gaming out how long it can continue to undermine its constituencies to benefit its donors. Unfortunately for those looking to defend said democracy, Republicans have also been working for decades to insulate themselves from the opinions of anyone who might try to crash the party.