from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

The Silver Lining in the Climate Bill Cloud

April 26, 2010

Blog Post

Most of what can intelligently be said about the breakdown this past weekend of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate talks has already been said. I suspect, though, that the news isn’t quite as bad for many climate bill supporters as they think.

That’s not because, as Joe Klein argues, the climate bill was political poison for Democrats. It’s not obvious to me that that’s true. Of course, some (perhaps a lot of) Democrats would be vulnerable to charges of imposing an “energy tax”, and would suffer for that. But, on the flipside, any hint of bipartisanship – which a Graham-supported bill would have been – could have helped Democrats blunt a central GOP message. Remember what Mitch McConnell said about a month ago about healthcare:

“It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out.”

No, the silver lining for supporters of serious action on energy and climate is that the bill wasn’t ready for primetime – and the blowup over the weekend gives its proponents some more time to do their work. It’s not clear, after the demise of the “linked fee” for gasoline, diesel, and other fuels last week, that the bill’s authors had a complete package ready to roll out. In addition, it’s certain that even with a deal on the transportation sector, the bill would have started with only one Republican cosponsor; that would have made for a very tough sixty vote fight. (See, again, health care, which had one lonely Republican supporter once upon a time.)

Worse, with a six week period between now and when the EPA will complete its economic analysis of the bill, supporters would have entered a long stretch of vulnerability. Opponents could have made baseless claims about the bill’s costs, and supporters would have had no definitive analysis with which to counter them.

I don’t mean to minimize the consequences of what happened over the weekend. The shift to immigration, which has very little chance of passing the Senate, indeed looks primarily like a political ploy. (A moral case for the shift only exists if there’s some hope of actually passing legislation.) The atmosphere for the climate talks is more poisonous than before. But the full fallout, I suspect, won’t be known for quite a while.