Weekly Mulch: New bills and old money

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Climate legislation is returning to the Senate’s docket, and leaders on Capitol Hill are hoping that this version, a compromise bill spearheaded by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), can pass without getting caught in the morass of money and politics that has delayed action so far.

A long, long time ago…

Remember, there was a time when Congress was going to pass climate legislation before the international climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. President Barack Obama was going to show up with a bill in hand and lead the world towards a better climate future. After the House passed its climate bill in June 2009, the Senate began discussing climate change, and a first stab by Sen. Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) went nowhere. Now, Kerry has turned to less liberal colleagues to draft an alternative that would appeal to moderates and even Republicans.

Now the Massachusetts senator is promising that climate change isn’t dead. A new bill is coming—more information may be in the offing as early as today, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones.

Third time’s the charm

Sen. Kerry is trying a new tactic to pass climate legislation. He’s waiting to release his plan until he knows the bill has the 60 supporters it needs to circumvent a filibuster. The details have not been hammered out yet, and even the Senators who’ve been in talks with Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman don’t seem to have a clear sense of what will be in the version that will emerge.

In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, released an ambitious draft of the legislation, let lobbyists and members of Congress fight over it, and passed a much-changed edition months later. Sen. Kerry tried a similar plan on his side of Capitol Hill (that was the Kerry-Boxer bill), but it did not work.

With this piece of legislature, Sens. Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are working out the compromises before they release the legislation. Both reporting and speculation about their bill say that it will abandon the cap-and-trade system passed in the House. Cap-and-trade restricts carbon emissions across the economy; a variation on that policy that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill may favor will limit the system to a few sectors.

Will it work?

Kerry’s expected bill may be a much weaker plan than any proposed so far, yet it is still not certain that the Senate will support it. The lead authors of the bill have been meeting with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, as Sheppard reports, but those targets have not promised support yet. Coming out of a meeting, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) told reporters: “There were some interesting things that were discussed in there and like everything else in the United States Senate, the devil is in the details.”

From a distance, banner-day climate legislation still seems possible. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Foundation, and the National Resources Defense Council believe that they will see a bill this year that caps carbon. These green groups would be able to live with the incentives handed to industry groups so far, according to Campus Progress’ Tristan Fowler.

“There are compromises [that can go] too far. Fortunately, I don’t think we’re getting near that territory at the moment,” Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, told Fowler.

Sickly green

Before getting too excited about stamping a green seal of approval on Congress’ legislation, consider Johann Hari’s testimony in The Nation about the relationships between environmental groups and the industries that they oppose.

Hari has reported on climate change issues for years, and at first, he “imagined that American green groups were on these people’s side in the corridors of Capitol Hill, trying to stop the Weather of Mass Destruction. But it is now clear that many were on a different path—one that began in the 1980s, with a financial donation.”

Hari argues that as environmental groups began to reach out to polluters, handing them awards for green behavior and accepting support from their deep pockets, they learned to compromise too readily and accept political excuses for delaying action on climate change. While in other realms these compromises might fly, when the stakes are as high as they are on environmental issues, that behavior turns the stomach.

“You can’t stand at the edge of a rising sea and say, ‘Sorry, the swing states don’t want you to happen today. Come back in fifty years,’” Hari writes.

The green future

When Kerry, Lieberman and Graham do release the compromised bill, watch for a tsunami of money and influence that could pack the bill with prizes for specific industries—or derail it altogether. Just this week, the natural gas industry’s lobbyists told The Hill, a D.C.-based newspaper, that they were ready to fight with the coal industry over incentives in the Senate bill. At AlterNet, Harvey Wasserman writes that the nuclear industry spent $645 million in the past decade to get back into the energy game, according to a new report from American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop. (Hint: that $645 million is working in their favor.)

In the Senate, the influence of oil companies will play an important role, according to David Roberts at Grist.

“While coal has a lot of power in the House, oil has enormous power in the Senate, particularly over the conservadems and Republicans needed to put the bill over the top,” Roberts explains.

No matter what legislation passes and what incentives it contains, environmentalists need to continue putting pressure on their representatives in Congress and on national environmental groups to push back against polluting industries and work to fix the world’s climate.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Why only 9

Because of Lieberman. There's not a doubt in my mind, that if Republican's got 9 seats to bring it to a 50-48-2 tie, that Lieberman would be the 51st vote for the Republicans. He's already planning on it. Via TP:

 

HOST: Could you see yourself being a Republican or is that…

LIEBERMAN: It’s possible.

HOST:…far-fetched.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, yeah. No, it’s possible. A good old-fashioned New England moderate Republican.


Who is surprised? Lieberman still thinks he could run as an Independent too, but that's only if the Republicans agree to not put anyone of note on the Republican line.

Now Who'll Run Against Joe in '12? Chris Dodd?

As of this afternoon, Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal is officially running for Senate. Folks who've spent time in Connecticut may remember that Blumenthal was famous until today for almost running for higher office every cycle but never pulling the trigger. For comparison's sake, Elliot Spitzer used to be mentioned in the same breath as Blumenthal as a rising star Attorney General destined for bigger things. In the time Blumenthal's been Attorney General, Elliot Spitzer went from government attorney to private attorney to Attorney General to Governor to Slate Columnist. It's good to see Blumenthal step in to run for Chris Dodd's now-open seat. It does raise the question though of who will run against Joe Lieberman if Joementum tries to test his luck again in 2012 (there was a rumor Blumenthal would run against Lieberman in '12, although then again they said the same thing in '06). I suspect Ned Lamont will take another go at it, assuming he doesn't become the Governor of Connecticut first. That would be fun. More outlandish: A restless Chris Dodd, figuring the sheen of scandal has faded, unretires himself to run for the other Nutmeg State Senate seat. After all, Joe Lieberman makes most anybody look good. Even if Joe ran as an Indy and not a GOPer, I think he'd pull more GOP than Dem votes. An outlandish scenario I guess, but a fun one to ponder.

Can your conscience live with killing the bill?

There has been a loud pronouncement by self-proclaimed representatives of the left-netroots that the Senate bill must be killed in order to be saved. Or improved. Or some such thing. Never mind the absolute incoherence of logic in the argument of killing the patient to save it. I don't want to talk to Adam Green or Jane Hamsher. I want to talk to the people they talk to. The people that sign their petitions.  I want to share my feelings about what I feel I would be doing if I had a hand in killing the bill.

If they are successful in killing the bill (which, thankfully, they won't be since among the progressives in Congress, cooler heads seem to be prevailing), health care/insurance reform is over for more than a decade.  This idea that we can bring it back next year or in 2011 with some sort of a left-right populist alliance if we fail now is bullshit.  Before you sign one of their petitions to kill the bill, let me remind you what you will be putting your name to:

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MoveOn.Org should hold Obama accountable

I'm likely to ignore future e-mails from MoveOn.org Political Action after reading the last two appeals they've sent me. They are raising money off the health care reform battle while absolving President Obama from blame for the pitiful state of the Senate bill.

This arrived in my in-box earlier this week:

First, Joe Lieberman helped President Bush invade Iraq, and the Democrats in Washington forgave him. Then, he endorsed John McCain, and they forgave him again. Then, he personally attacked Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention, and still the Democrats forgave him.1

Now, Joe Lieberman is single-handedly gutting health care reform. The time for forgiveness is over. It's time to hold Senator Lieberman accountable.

First, we're going to launch a huge ad campaign to make sure every last Connecticut voter knows that Senator Lieberman is blocking strong reforms. Then, we'll push Senate leaders to strip him of his chairmanship and seniority. Finally, we'll work to defeat him in his next election.

Our goal is to raise $400,000 in the next 24 hours, to send a deafeningly loud message that we've had enough of Joe Lieberman. That'll take at least 3 donations from Urbandale--can you chip in $200?

From the follow-up e-mail:

It's outrageous: Joe Lieberman is single-handedly blocking our best chance at strong health care reform in years!

In less than 24 hours MoveOn members have donated an astounding $650,000 to send Lieberman home for good. That's awesome--thank you! Now we're aiming to raise $1 million together.

If we can hit that goal, we'll have the resources to make sure every voter in Connecticut knows that Senator Lieberman has been standing in the way of reform and to push Senate Democrats to take away his chairmanship.

That'll take at least 3 donations from Urbandale--can you chip in $200?

Sorry, MoveOn team. I detest Lieberman as much as the next decent human being, but you lost me when you tried to claim he is "single-handedly" gutting health care reform. President Obama has signaled all year that he's willing to ditch the public option. Appeasing the insurance lobby has been a higher priority than giving Americans an alternative to private insurance. The White House chief of staff instructed Harry Reid to accommodate all of Lieberman's demands. Not only that, Obama's administration worked to kill an amendment allowing re-importation of prescription drugs, which Obama supported as a senator and presidential candidate. That was one element of a deal White House staff cut with drug companies behind the scenes.

Senator Russ Feingold pointed out that

it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for [the public option's] apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.

"This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don't think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth," said Feingold. "I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect."

No kidding. The people at MoveOn.org Political Action know all this background. I assume they used the "blame it all on Lieberman" frame in order to collect money from progressives who still believe in the president as well as from Obamaskeptics like me.

I'll donate to Lieberman's Democratic opponent in 2012, but I'm not inspired to fund MoveOn.org as long as they are covering for Obama's broken promises on health care reform.

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