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On the Passage of Waxman-Markey

PH2009061402651.jpgOn Friday, the Waxman-Markey climate change bill stumbled across the finish line in the House. Supporters had been hoping for a 20-30 vote margin. They secured, instead, a seven-vote win for a nearly broken bill.

The optimistic take on this comes from longtime congressional watcher Stan Collender. "The ultimate political value for the White House is that it was able to get the bill adopted at all but still allow 44 Democrats to vote against it," he writes. "Not asking Democrats to walk a political plank will pay huge dividends later this year and in the 2010 elections because those members who needed to vote against it were able to do so."

I'm skeptical of arguments that can too easily turn in either direction. This outcome, Collender says, "shows the White House still really knows how to work the Hill." But if the administration had managed a 60-vote margin for cap-and-trade, no one would see that as a massive strategic miscalculation. My sense is that this looks like what it is: a slim margin for a weakened bill. And now it goes to the Senate.

What further worries me is that the bill is all inside-game right now. I'd be surprised if 20 percent of the country knew cap-and-trade was moving through Congress. There's no popular mobilization for the legislation. That means that the pressure for changes is coming almost entirely from legislators who aren't sure whether they'll vote for it. And that, in turn, means that the pressure is coming entirely from legislators who want to weaken the bill. Claire McCaskill, for instance, twittered, "I hope we can fix cap and trade so it doesn't unfairly punish businesses and families in coal dependent states like Missouri." The point of cap-and-trade, as I understand it, is that it fairly disadvantages people and businesses who are dependent on cheap coal and are harming the atmosphere.

Friday's vote was a tremendous testament to Waxman and Pelosi's capacity to move legislation. But the legislation on climate change is, I fear, further along then the politics. And my concern is that when you look at the state of the bill and the margin of the vote, you're looking more at Waxman and Pelosi's capacity to run the lower chamber than at Congress's readiness to seriously address global warming.

Image from Bloomberg News Photo.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 29, 2009; 7:08 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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And this has been the huge problem with Obama's legislative plan. He can control what gets debated and put his force and popularity behind it. Instead he's not lead but allowed Congress to do the heavy lifting. The huge problem with that is Congress basically works in the shadows as far as the nation is concerned and so is much more open to lobbying pressure. Obama keeps claiming his plate is so full but between his failure at the stimulus and his finally getting into health care now what has he really done domestically?

Posted by: endaround | June 29, 2009 7:34 AM | Report abuse

The previous commenter is so right about the phenomenally expanded role of lobbying under this administration. As to the post's remark that the bill "fairly disadvantages people who are harming the atmosphere" - could there be a statement dumber or more despicable? This whole country is but one, and by far not the biggest, contributor to what goes on in the earth's atmosphere. Or are you going to repeat the fairy tale of "let's lead by example."?

Posted by: truck1 | June 29, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Krugman has a strong column on this issue today:

Posted by: wvng | June 29, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

@truck1: "The previous commenter is so right about the phenomenally expanded role of lobbying under this administration."

That's not what he said. And your argument in favor of sticking our collective heads in the sand holds no water regardless of how much invective you throw at those who base their decisions on facts.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | June 29, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

"Fairly disadvantages"? The only CO2 producers who have to actually pay for permits in the early years are oil refiners. Agribusiness gets a free pass and the coal fired power industry gets billions in federal R&D money. The auto industry in addition to bailout money gets billions more to update their product line.
This bill has a lot less to do with the environment than it has with lobbying.

Posted by: tl_houston | June 29, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

And can anyone make a case that placing financial burdens on oil refiners won't cause FURTHER dependency on foreign oil??? It has long been said there are not enough refineries in this country. Yeah, make it harder for them. Good work. "Sticking our collective heads in the sand?" Who is in this collective? Only the united states. Other countries, bigger polluters than us will go on their way. They won't buy the Axelrod fairy tale line that we lead by example. Who is he speaking to? Third graders? I have never seen a public official insult the intelligence of Americans more than Axelrod does, just as an aside.

Posted by: truck1 | June 29, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Truck -
Regardless of where it is refined -- crude oil still has to come from somewhere. Penalizing domestic refineries for the pollution they do cause does not increase our dependence on foreign oil, if anything it encourages companies to focus on clean technology because it hits them where it hurts -- the "collective" wallet, thereby decreasing our OVERALL dependence on oil by making it less attractive financially. Kind of the whole point. And if you think Axelrod is insulting our intelligence, where the hell were you for the past eight years? Or hell, even in 2002-2003 during the run up to the Iraq war -- that was insulting, to those of us with intelligence.

Posted by: 38sa | June 30, 2009 8:12 PM | Report abuse

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