The battle royale over health care reform has ended (for now), and it doesn’t portend for a successful outcome for climate legislation. The administration expended massive political capital to get a health care bill done. Was this a Sophie’s Choice?
A House Divided
The incredibly polarizing nature of the health care debate resulted in clear single party action. According to a Gallup poll, 86% of Republicans believe that passing the health care reform bill was “a bad thing.” Likewise, 2/3 of Republicans believe that global warming changes are exaggerated, only 1/3 believe that human activity is causing climate change, and 80% do not believe that it will pose a serious threat to our way of life in their lifetime. The numbers are almost mirror opposites for Democrats.
The one-party door that the Obama administration used for health care reform was closed with the election of a republican Senator in Massachusetts – the Senate is no longer filibuster proof. And with the mid-term elections looming and the economy still limping, it’s doubtful that either side of the aisle has the intestinal fortitude to come together and pass a meaningful bill.
As Senator Graham told Reuters, “‘Democrats’ handling of the healthcare bill will make it very difficult to do anything complicated and controversial. I’m still committed to trying to roll out a vision of how you can price carbon and make it business-friendly, but the truth of the matter is, I think you’re going to find most of our colleagues around here risk adverse.”
Senator McCain was reportedly a bit more blunt, telling a radio host, “There will be no cooperation for the rest of this year. They have poisoned the well in what they have done and how they have done it.”
The Boston Globe pointed out that, “The safer bet for Democrats…would be to focus on smaller, job-producing spending bills in the months before the 2010 mid-term elections.”
Concessions and Unicorns
The only hope for potential bipartisan support is a bill with plenty of special interest provisions. What we may get (courtesy of Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman) is a porked up energy bill, with plenty of nuclear, off-shore drilling, and clean coal incentives…the three unicorns of meaningful and sustainable climate action. That’s before the amendments start piling on, of course. Action on livestock or land fill methane? Not likely.
Hope Yes, But Flavored With Bitterness
With large power producers and other major emitters already heading for potential EPA regulation anyway, caps on these sectors are also possible as part of a bill. And there’s clearly some incentive to get a bill done to pre-empt both EPA and state level action. Even so, facts seem to have been replaced by soundbytes in Washington, so whether it is called tax and dividend or reduction and refund, it’s going to get ugly…a ‘smack down’ between “yes we can” and “no you can’t” (as shown in the popular youtube video below.)
Better Than Nothing?
Energy secretary Steven Chu told Fareed Zakaria, “Once you get it going and start making progress, very clever people start to dream up better solutions. So rather than wait around for a perfect bill that that might be delayed for four or five years, or forever, get it going.” But I’m not so sure.
A few businesses are in the interesting position of leading on this issue (check out the BICEP website for some of these forward thinkers), and many more are readying themselves for an inevitable lower carbon economy. More than anything, business executives hate uncertainty. Sending a mixed message to an ambivelent public also may do more harm than good. I suspect that it’s important to send a clear directional message, rather than pursue a moral victory that’s heavy with caveats and continues to only nibble away at the problem. But I wonder if it’s possible in the current political climate. What do you think?