Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Nation of Children

Yglesias: This is the Sound of Hope Dying

Yesterday afternoon, Lindsay Graham confirmed that he’s bailing from efforts to pass a climate change bill. The odds weren’t looking good for this legislation, but now they’re hard to distinguish from zero. And the news gets worse after the midterms. Simply put, given the difficult nature of the problem and the regional considerations in play, you just can’t tackle climate change unless a substantial number of Republicans want to tackle climate change. In theory, this shouldn’t be impossible. There are three Republicans from liberal states in New England. And there are a bunch of Republicans from southwestern states with low carbon emissions and huge potential to generate low carbon energy. On top of that, you have Republicans from Gulf Coast states whose population should be intimately familiar by now with the ecological consequences of climate disruption and fossile fuel use.

But there’s no sign of any movement. And as Kate Sheppard observes, Graham himself can barely speak coherently on the subject:

I’m in the wing of the Republican Party that has no problem with trying to find ways to clean up our air. We can have a debate about global warming, and I’m not in the camp that believes man-made emissions are contributing overwhelmingly to global climate change, but I do believe the planet is heating up. But I am in the camp of believing that clean air is a noble purpose for every Republican to pursue. The key is to make it business friendly.


Paradoxically, the 111th Congress is going to go down in history as one of the most productive and consequential of all time, but also one that abjectly failed to confront the most important issue it faced. And by “Congress” I mean “Senate.”


For the better part of a year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) worked with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a comprehensive climate/energy bill. It was poised to be a pretty strong package, that struck a grand bargain between parties and interests. The result would be a tri-partisan bill that would combat global warming, create new jobs in a growing industry, and reduce the deficit.

But like Lucy, who always pulls away the football and puts Charlie Brown on his ass, Graham has a nasty habit of betrayal.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., [yesterday] said he would vote against a climate change strategy he helped develop with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., citing new changes that further restrict offshore oil and gas drilling and the bill's impact on the transportation sector.

He said neither that plan nor any energy and climate strategy will get 60 Senate votes this year. Instead, he said, lawmakers next year should work on a strategy that only places a cap on electric utilities while lowering emissions from the transportation sector through increased fuel efficiency and other means that do not involve placing a cap on the sector's carbon emissions.

Graham said his advice to lawmakers is to "start over and scale down your ambitions." ... The statement today is the furthest Graham has gone in divorcing himself from the substance and timing of the efforts of Kerry, Lieberman and other Democrats to pass climate and energy policy this year.

Graham added that the BP oil spill disaster makes this a bad time for policymakers to tackle energy policy. Try to wrap your head around that one.

When Graham first started moving away from his own bill a couple of months ago, plenty of smart, credible observers seemed to think the South Carolinian was still working in good faith, and was arguing from a reasonable position. I disagreed. Yesterday, these observers started coming around -- Jon Chait, for example, said he "greatly overestimated" Lindsey Graham's "sincerity."

Let this be a lesson to all of us: if something important needs to get done, and it's entirely dependent on Graham working seriously towards a policy goal in good faith, prepare to be sorely disappointed.

At this point, Graham is objecting to energy policy provisions he helped write, and his comments on the kind of proposal he'd like to see are bordering on gibberish. Either Graham has no idea what he's talking about after spending months crafting a comprehensive bill, or he's just wildly spinning a ridiculous rationalization for abandoning his own effort.

The consequences of Graham's betrayal are severe. As the need for a comprehensive climate/energy bill becomes overwhelmingly obvious, a Republican filibuster will likely kill all legislative attempts. With Dems likely to lose seats in November, the next attempt to pass meaningful legislation is likely several years away.

It's very hard to be even a little optimistic under the circumstances.

Ezra Klein: Lindsey Graham and the failure of the 'lone Republican' theory

With Lindsey Graham bolting a bill he helped draft, efforts to address climate change in this Congress look likely to fail. And because the next Congress is likely to have more Republicans, and because the House's approval of Waxman-Markey will expire after the election and mean the House would have to write and pass a whole new bill, the situation looks grim going forward, too.

This is, understandably, causing many enviros to wonder whether Graham was ever committed to the effort. Brad Plumer, who's as fair-minded and unexcitable on these questions as they come, calls Graham's stated objections "ridiculous" and says "this whole episode really makes you wonder if Graham was ever serious about energy and climate policy in the first place."

My take, from previous conversations with Graham, his staff, and other Senate offices that were working with them, is that Graham was serious about doing this if he thought it could be done. But when he made the judgment that a carbon-pricing bill wasn't going to pass the Senate, that was also enough for him to decide that it was foolhardy to remain publicly committed to a position that's unpopular with his base. There was no middle ground in Graham's position: Either he could do this and he'd be there or he couldn't and he wouldn't. He clearly came down on the latter side. So rather than stick with the effort and give a long-shot campaign the best chance it could have, Graham is abandoning it and probably sticking the final nail in its coffin.

It's further evidence that the "lone Republican" strategy doesn't work. Time and again, Democrats have ended up in a room with a single Republican who seemed willing to cut a deal. It was Olympia Snowe on health care, Bob Corker on financial regulation and Lindsey Graham on climate change. In every case, the final bill looked a lot like what that Republican helped negotiate. And in every single case, the Republican realized that he or she couldn't get more support from their party and so they eventually bolted the effort.

If you think this has all been a cynical strategy, it's been brilliantly successful. On the one hand, Republicans have had a major role in shaping these bills. On the other hand, they haven't had to vote for these bills, and so they could cleanly campaign against legislation that a member of their party helped write. And as an added bonus, Democrats are stuck trying to defend a bill that their base doesn't like very much and that's thick with compromises that annoy political elites.

Kevin Drum: R.I.P. Climate Legislation

Today probably marks the official death of climate legislation in the United States. Lindsey Graham, the only Republican even nominally favorable toward any kind of carbon pricing plan, has announced that he can't support the Kerry-Lieberman bill because it doesn't allow enough offshore drilling (!), and without Graham there's pretty much zero chance of getting any further Republican support. So the odds of passing climate legislation, already slim, have now dropped to zero. The only option left is a pure energy bill, something that accomplishes very little, and accomplishes that little solely by offering up subsidies to every special interest you can imagine.

By coincidence, Stanford researcher Jon Krosnick has an op-ed in the New York Times today that suggests this is exactly what the American public wants:

When respondents were asked if they thought that the earth’s temperature probably had been heating up over the last 100 years, 74 percent answered affirmatively. And 75 percent of respondents said that human behavior was substantially responsible for any warming that has occurred.

....Fully 86 percent of our respondents said they wanted the federal government to limit the amount of air pollution that businesses emit, and 76 percent favored government limiting business’s emissions of greenhouse gases in particular. Not a majority of 55 or 60 percent — but 76 percent.

Large majorities opposed taxes on electricity (78 percent) and gasoline (72 percent) to reduce consumption. But 84 percent favored the federal government offering tax breaks to encourage utilities to make more electricity from water, wind and solar power. And huge majorities favored government requiring, or offering tax breaks to encourage, each of the following: manufacturing cars that use less gasoline (81 percent); manufacturing appliances that use less electricity (80 percent); and building homes and office buildings that require less energy to heat and cool (80 percent).

So there you have it: the American public believes in global warming and wants the government to do something about it. However, the American public doesn't want to do anything — carbon taxes or cap-and-trade — that might actually work. But they do want to open the federal goody bag and dole out subsidies and tax breaks to everyone under the sun, presumably because these all sound like pleasant things to do and they're under the impression that they're all "free." Whether they work or not isn't really on their radar.

And it looks like that's what Congress is going to deliver. We are, in this case, getting exactly the government we deserve. A government of children.1

1Yes, I'm feeling bitter about this at the moment. Anyone have a problem with that?

1 comment:

  1. In all fairness, no one could have predicted that Lindsey Graham would stab the Democrats in the back.

    /Village pundit