A conference strategy for a carbon price?
"Be aware," writes Marc Ambinder. "The White House has a strategy here for getting climate change legislation passed. It's called 'getting to conference.' That is, the Senate needs to pass a bill this year. And then the House and Senate will (in theory) put in some sort of carbon pricing mechanism when the two chambers reconcile their bills. It's just much easier to get bills passed without forcing the Senate to try to pass a bill it does not have the votes to pass."
I don't buy this. In part, that's because it's not the first time I've heard it. Here's Obama, making the same argument about health-care reform back in July:
Conference is where these differences will get ironed out. And that's where my bottom lines will remain: Does this bill cover all Americans? Does it drive down costs both in the public sector and the private sector over the long-term. Does it improve quality? Does it emphasize prevention and wellness? Does it have a serious package of insurance reforms so people aren't losing health care over a preexisting condition? Does it have a serious public option in place? Those are the kind of benchmarks I'll be using.
Of course, there was no conference, and if there had been, it would not have ended with a serious public option in place. There's nothing magic about conference that allows controversial policies that couldn't pass the Senate the first time around to pass on the second go. The advantage of a conference report is that it can't be amended, which means you might be able to sneak in some small concessions to the House that aren't important enough for anyone to sink the whole bill over. But it can be filibustered. So if you add anything major to the bill that would've killed it on the pre-conference vote, it's a good bet that it'll kill it on the post-conference vote as well.
Carbon pricing almost certainly falls into that category. It's not a side policy or a bit of pork. It's the core of a climate bill. If it doesn't pass in the original Senate bill, that's because it can't pass the Senate. Adding it in during conference won't change that. It'll just mean the conference report can't pass the Senate, either. I can't see any permutation of this in which a conference strategy for carbon pricing makes any sense.
I don't want to be too hard on the White House here. I don't think there's a magic wand they can wave or speech they can give that'll turn 40-some votes into 60. For that reason, I'm be very sympathetic to the White House saying that they can't pass a carbon price and need a short-term legislative strategy that can get 60 votes, even if I'd like to see that paired with a longer-term persuasive strategy to make a carbon price more palatable in the future. But I'm not very sympathetic to them stringing activists along.
June 16, 2010; 10:46 AM ET
Categories: Climate Change
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