In defense of the Dems’ One Big Bill energy/climate strategy
As Kate reported, Reps. Waxman and Markey have released a discussion draft of their American Clean Energy and Security (ACES, heh) Act. You can read Kate’s post for details, the full 600-page(!) text if you’ve got the nerve, or a summary. As far as I can tell, this didn’t get much media, which is peculiar, since it represents the starting gun on one of the Democrats’ three top priorities under Obama’s leadership. If this thing gets passed it will be an epochal change in U.S. policy.
One of the striking features — and perhaps the most consequential legislative decision Dems will make this year on energy/climate — is that it lumps everything together in a single bill. I know some folks aren’t big on this strategy, and I’ve been on the fence myself, but I’ve pretty much come to see it as both smart and inevitable.
Consider the context. There are several important steps that need to be taken on climate and energy, and the Dems have promised to get them done this year. If nothing else, the U.S. needs something to take to the Copenhagen climate talks, coming up in December. That puts serious time pressure on the whole undertaking.
Waxman, chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, is also a key power broker on healthcare, which will also be coming to a vote this year, so it’s not like he has unlimited time and attention. (Though of course he has a capable deputy in Markey.)
Plus I hear there’s an economic meltdown and possible bank collapse going on.
How, with sharply circumscribed time, attention, and political capital, could Dems get all these policies passed?
It’s important to note that the cap-and-trade part of the package is by far the least popular and easiest to demagogue. So conventional wisdom has been that Dems should lead with the more popular energy and grid stuff. But those aren’t a cakewalk either — there’s plenty of regional opposition to renewable energy standards and a whole set of jurisdictional and local battles around the grid.
The fact is, doing these pieces separately would mean three, four, possibly five bruising legislative battles, culminating in a battle over cap-and-trade that, in my estimation, simply can’t be won on its own in this Senate. No one in D.C. has the appetite for that, not this year.
So they’ve decided, uncharacteristically for Democrats, to double down. They are piling all this stuff into one big-ticket, high-profile, must-pass bill. Just as there will be “a healthcare bill” — and not four disparate, complicated healthcare bills only wonks can understand — there will now be a green economy bill. For it or against it.
Will that strategy coalesce support or coalesce opposition? Hard to say. At the very least, opposing this bill, as a Democrat, will be riskier than opposing isolated pieces of it. And there will be no avoiding the decision. Pelosi made it very clear in a conference call with green bloggers that this is not negotiable. (As you would know if you were following my Twitter feed!) “There’s an inevitability to this that everyone has to understand,” she said.
There is now a single point of focus, a put-up-or-shut-up moment. Anyone who wants to transition to a green economy or get the country off foreign oil or prevent global warming knows what to get behind. If nothing else, there will be no doubt by next year whether we’re serious about this sh*t.
(More on the Waxman/Markey bill in coming days.)