» This Story:Read +| Comments

Topic A: Chance for Passage of Climate Change Bill Debated

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Post asked politicians, academics and others whether the health-care debate has made it unlikely that climate change legislation will be passed in the near future. Below are contributions from Steven F. Hayward, Kenneth P. Green, James M. Inhofe, Geoff Garin, Tony Fratto, Steve Seidel, David G. Hawkins, Harold Ford Jr., Kay Baily Hutchison and Barbara Boxer.

This Story

STEVEN F. HAYWARD and KENNETH P. GREEN

Resident scholars at the American Enterprise Institute

Ironically, the difficulties of passing health-care reform may boost the chances that cap-and-trade legislation is revived and passed by the Senate. President Obama and Hill Democrats are going to need a major legislative victory and a way to change the subject.

The Waxman-Markey bill that emerged from the House is badly flawed, though it has the political virtue of postponing its serious costs for a decade or more, making it harder to portray it in town hall meetings as a "death panel" for American industry. And there are two ways the Senate might fix it. Waxman-Markey gives away 85 percent of emission allowances to existing coal users and other interests. But oil and gas were largely cut out of the deal. The votes of senators from oil and gas states could be bought by cutting them in on the free allowances. This is the most likely strategy, and it will mean giving away 100 percent of the allowances. The greens might scream, but they are so desperate for a win that they'll take one under any circumstances.

Another option is that the Senate might start over from scratch. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has a cap-and-trade proposal that would have a 100 percent auction for emission allowances, with 75 percent of the revenue rebated directly to consumers and the other 25 percent devoted to alternative energy research and production. In contrast to Waxman-Markey's 1,300 pages, Cantwell's proposal is only 22 pages. It's so crazy simple it just might pass.

SEN. JAMES M. INHOFE (R-Okla.)

Ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

As lawmakers return to Washington and assess the fiery backlash of constituent opposition to government-run health care, those mired in the thick of the climate change debate are wondering: What does it all mean for us?

The warring factions over climate policy should step back and try to discern whether constituents are signaling a more basic distrust of new government schemes. Polling data from the past several months indicates that such public distrust is real, deep and widespread. This means the Democrats' government-run, cap-and-trade scheme -- in fact, an energy tax that extends into every corner of American life -- now faces an even higher hurdle, including growing opposition from many Democrats in the Senate. Such distrust will only grow if Democrats insist, as they did in the House, on crafting climate legislation in their inner sanctums, with no time for serious public input and debate. And this is exactly the course being drawn in the Senate.

Still, Washington's appetite for spending, taxing and regulating -- cap-and trade contains elements of each -- is boundless. So, despite having public opinion on our side, those opposed to cap-and-trade are facing a monumental battle this fall in the Senate. There will be a mad race for 60 votes, and the outcome will reverberate beyond 2010.

GEOFF GARIN

Democratic pollster and strategist; president of Hart Research Associates

Passing energy reform isn't any tougher because of the battle over health care. There is broad public support for an energy reform policy that reduces carbon emissions and promotes increased reliance on alternative and renewable energy. Americans believe it is urgent that we end our dependence on oil, especially imported oil, and see the development of alternative energy as offering real potential to create the next generation of American jobs.

This doesn't mean that the fight to pass significant energy reform will be easily won. We will see the same kind of massive resistance by the Republican leadership on energy as there has been on health-insurance reform, and we will see the same scare tactics as well. But the public understands the stakes with energy reform even more clearly than it does with health reform, and at least a few Republicans in Congress seem to understand they will put themselves on the wrong side of history by standing in the way of a clean-energy future.

Of course, we don't yet know how the health debate will end. I still expect Congress will pass significant reforms to protect consumers and expand access to affordable coverage -- with virtually no help from Republicans. The bruising nature of the health debate might make a few Democrats more gun-shy about taking on another controversial fight, but success on health care is just as likely to create a template and a launching pad for success on energy. And if Congress fails to get anything done on health reform, the pressure to show some accomplishment on energy will be even greater.

TONY FRATTO

Deputy assistant to the president and deputy press secretary from September 2006 to January 2009

Let's review: In June, the House passed, by the slimmest of margins, a 1,200-plus-page, loophole-filled energy and climate bill that included a controversial, costly and complicated cap-and-trade scheme.

The bill was a heavy lift, ultimately requiring President Obama to make the vote a referendum on his presidency, and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to harangue House Democrats with his best "coffee is for closers" speech. The issue sparked popular unrest in congressional districts around the country (foreshadowing what's been happening with health care) as Americans rightly wondered how adding staggering new costs would affect an ailing economy. The deliberative Senate wisely decided to deliberate a bit more.

Before the heat turned up in health-care town meetings, before the spines of Blue Dogs stiffened and before deteriorating presidential opinion polls, cap-and-trade was unpopular and likely to fail in the Senate.

The health-care debate didn't improve cap-and-trade's prospects. The public outcry served as a wake-up call for members of Congress. But if cap-and-trade falls, it will fall under its own weight.

STEVE SEIDEL

Vice president for policy analysis at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change

The path to passing climate change legislation in the Senate looks very different from the one that led to the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the House. There, much of the action was in a single committee, and while eight Republicans voted for the bill, most of the negotiations were among Democrats.

Success in the Senate is a more difficult challenge. It will require true bipartisan engagement, compromise and far more active leadership by the Obama administration. Given that 10 Republican senators have written, co-sponsored, voted for or spoken in favor of mandatory greenhouse gas reductions in the recent past, bipartisan engagement should be possible, though it's not easy in today's political environment. The Senate will need to address outstanding concerns such as the issue of nuclear power as a potential "clean energy" option and enhancing the effectiveness of provisions to contain costs. Strong leadership by the White House will be critical to merging the disparate perspectives of different Senate committees into a package that can achieve broad support. Reaching agreement on a comprehensive climate and clean-energy bill will take time and may not happen until next year.

DAVID G. HAWKINS

Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate programs

Can Congress actually do two important things -- address both health care and climate change -- before it quits for the year? Of course it can. There is ample floor time on the calendar to debate both of these important measures. Senators and staff members are already hard at work on key design issues for clean-energy and climate legislation, even as they continue work on health care.

Many senators understand that a program to promote clean-energy investments and cut global warming pollution will build a path to economic vitality. This program would deliver jobs to Americans, provide planning certainty for U.S. businesses and cut our shackles to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It would also stave off huge threats to national security, public health, economic growth and the natural environment that would flow from a disrupted climate. The House has already passed a bill. With international climate negotiations scheduled for December, the world is waiting to see the United States resume its leadership role. Now is the time to act. The senators who understand this won't want to table the issue.

HAROLD FORD JR.

Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council

President Obama can pass energy legislation this year, but to do so he needs to absorb four lessons from the health-reform debate.

First, write the bulk of the energy bill with the input of Congress. Despite recent dips, Obama's favorable ratings are high enough to enact reform. Having served in Congress, I respect and admire the Democratic leadership, but the country wants the president to lead on his top priorities.

Second, he should own energy. He did as a candidate; he should as president. Control the debate and don't lose control. The country voted for change; give it to them. Regrettably, the health-reform debate has been about "death panels" and "higher taxes," instead of real talk of insurance reform, cost containment, more access for those who don't have insurance and incentives for preventive care. Obama needs to seize the debate and make it about fewer wars over oil, lower gas and electricity prices, and more jobs for Americans.

Third, settle on better language than "cap and trade" and climate change. These abstract labels don't resonate in Kansas. Some analysts have projected that the House energy reform bill will cost each U.S. household $175 a year. That's a small price to prevent today's 13- and 14-year-olds from having to go to war in the Middle East in 10 years to protect oil, which we should drastically reduce our dependence on.

Finally, lead by example. Get on the road and sell energy reform. Practice conservation in the White House. Launch a national competition in public schools that encourages energy conservation. And tell the country why this is important to keep America safe and growing.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-Tex.)

Ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee

Cap-and-trade legislation will fail under its own weight, just like health-care legislation. Each massive, misguided policy is being doggedly pushed by the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership in a narrow, partisan fashion that will contribute to and ensure its failure. We could forecast the American outrage, based on past experience with these types of proposals, and if the Democrats succeed in forcing these bad policies on American families, they will be held accountable by the public.

The administration's health-reform proposal would nationalize and bureaucratize health care in America. Cap-and-trade, meanwhile, will kill 2 million American jobs; shrink the household incomes of average Americans by more than $1,000 annually; and penalize the industries that produce our nation's energy -- at a time when we are already concerned about the high costs of fuel and utilities. It will increase our dependence on foreign energy imports, which is already at an astounding 60 percent. We have seen such proposals before, and the good news is that they have failed miserably because Americans are well informed and understand how they could impact their lives.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.)

Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

As we are moving to address some of our nation's great challenges -- revitalizing our economy, putting Americans back to work and passing health insurance reform -- scientists are telling us we have a short window to take the steps that are needed to avoid the ravages of global warming. We must also act quickly to ensure America leads the world in clean energy technology. We need to confront all of these issues; we don't have the luxury of picking and choosing. By creating powerful incentives for clean energy, the bill that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and I will introduce in September will restore our economy and create jobs at home while reducing carbon pollution and making us less dependent on foreign oil. John Doerr -- one of the nation's leading venture capitalists, who helped launch Google and Amazon.com -- has predicted that the investment capital that will flow into clean energy will dwarf the amount invested in high-tech and biotech combined. It will create millions of jobs in America -- building wind turbines, installing solar panels on homes and producing a new fleet of electric and hybrid vehicles.

We can successfully address all of these challenges. Our forebears have set the pace ever since our nation was founded. President Obama has reminded us that America built the transcontinental railroad and established the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of the Civil War. In the 1960s, we passed historic civil rights legislation even as we took on the challenge of going to the moon. At the end of the day, leaders have to lead when action is needed.


» This Story:Read +| Comments

More Washington Post Opinions

PostPartisan

Post Partisan

Quick takes from The Post's opinion writers.

Washington Sketch

Washington Sketch

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the capital.

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

See his latest editorial cartoon.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity