Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Climate Change Bill that Wasn't to Be

The New Yorker recently published an article, "As the World Burns", about the failure of climate change legislation. The article finds plenty of blame to go around, including the actions of the Senators who drafted the legislation, the White House (particularly the person(s) responsible for suggesting that Lindsey Graham supported an increased gas tax), Republican obstructionism, and reactionary idiocy from members of the public at Republican "Town Hall" meetings. And let's not forget Harry Reid's self-serving gambit to prioritize a non-existant "Immigration reform bill" over the climate change bill. Harry Reid's statement seems to have ended the possibility of proceeding with the bill.

But what is truly striking is how much Joe Lieberman, John Kerry and Lindsey Graham were willing to give away in order to simply get the energy industry to agree not to oppose the legislation. If you thought the deals the Obama Administration cut to limit industry opposition to healthcare reform were offensive... this, to me, seems like at least another order of magnitude. The final bill was better than nothing, I suppose, but I have a real problem with buying off special interests with huge subsidies and promises that preferential treatment will continue far into the future, perhaps indefinitely.

Beyond that, I can understand why the White House at a certain point seemed to stop caring about this legislation and acting like the bill wasn't even under discussion, making concessions that the authors of the bill hoped to use as carrots to lure Republican moderates to support the legislation. After reaching out, time and time again, on other issues, President Obama seems to have learned that "Republican bipartisanship" inevitably involves Lucy yanking away the football.

I'll give Lindsey Graham credit for joining the team that drafted the bill, but I'm not convinced that he would have ultimately voted for cloture in the face of a filibuster by his party, or in favor of the final legislation. Graham noted that as soon as Fox News figured out that they had a serious bill, "it’s gonna be all cap-and-tax all the time, and it’s gonna become just a disaster for me on the airwaves" - it's not simply a matter of duplicity that leads Republicans to yank away the football, it's a realization that powerful, monied interests will turn against them. Fox isn't a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party - it advances the policy goals of right-wing billionaires who, through Fox, campaign contributions, and other similar steps, hope to obtain and maintain the Republican Party as another of their holdings.

It's not so much that they can't by Democrats - there's a reason this bill needed Republican support to pass. It's more that, when it comes to their interests, the wholesale price on Republicans is lower. This will only get worse, thanks to the Supreme Court's wrong-headed Citizens United decision.

The article also points out that the public at large puts a very low priority on climate change.

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