Piggy bank in WashingtonA funny thing happened outside the twisted world of Congressional energy politics. Over at the Senate Banking Committee, Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) announced he’s going to push forward with finance reform and consumer protection bill, even if Republicans don’t want to help.

This comes after weeks of negotiating between Dodd and Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, who showed more interest in protecting large banks and predatory lenders. (Payday lenders, as it happens, have a strong presence in Tennessee and have given Corker more than $31,000.) Now Dodd’s fed up and moving the bill. As a result, Congress may eventually get something done on the issue.

On healthcare reform too, Harry Reid sent Mitch McConnell a letter saying he’s done playing games with Republicans who want to “start over.” Instead, he’s going to finish the job:

Though we have tried to engage in a serious discussion, our efforts have been met by repeatedly debunked myths and outright lies. At the same time, Republicans have resorted to extraordinary legislative maneuvers in an effort not to improve the bill, but to delay and kill it. After watching these tactics for nearly a year, there is only one conclusion an objective observer could make: these Republican maneuvers are rooted less in substantive policy concerns and more in a partisan desire to discredit Democrats, bolster Republicans, and protect the status quo on behalf of the insurance industry.

On healthcare, and possibly finance, Senate Democrats will have to pass bills through budget reconciliation to avoid Republican filibuster threats. They’ll face verbal attacks and they won’t have the comfort of Republicans voting with them. But, assuming the bills are any good, they’ll be doing the right thing.

Back in energy world …

Meantime, the engineers of a clean-energy bill are stuck playing the bipartisanship game. You have senators saying convoluted, nonsensical things about a hypothetical bill, as Dave Roberts notes. You have the lead trio — John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman — negotiating with fossil-fuel industry groups who are arguing in court that climate-change isn’t a threat to human welfare, as Brad Johnson notes. (“We don’t believe in the problem, but we’ve got the solution!”)

Kate Sheppard asked Sen. Barbara Boxer if the new scheme is really the best method to create green jobs, promote energy independence, and curb climate pollution. Boxer didn’t even try to defend the plan on its actual merits. “I’m not going to make an argument that the [new] approach is better [than last fall’s Kerry-Boxer bill] … Is it better than doing nothing? Absolutely,” she said.

So the question is, does it have to be this way? Can’t Democratic leaders grow a pair and muscle a bill through Congress?

For Senate Democratic leaders, it’s not yet a question of balls or no balls, because it’s not clear they have 50 votes to use in reconciliation (or in a future when the filibuster is fixed). Energy politics don’t line up along the familiar red-blue divide — rural Democrats, especially from coal-rich states, have historically voted with their Republican counterparts in support of the status quo. So it’s not quite the same situation as with financial reform.

But for individual senators, there is a question of toughness. Any plan to make polluters pay for the heat-trapping gasses they emit will be easy to demonize. Those lawmakers will have to explain to voters why it’s in the country’s interest. They won’t have the comfort of many Republicans voting with them. They’ll have to explain why it was the right vote anyway — why bipartisanship matters less to them than addressing an urgent threat. Several threats, actually — global warming, foreign-oil dependence, unemployment, and diminishing technological leadership.

That’s the issue facing hesitant Democrats like Byron Dorgan, Ben Nelson, and Jim Webb.

On that issue of toughness …

Finally, the veterans’ group VoteVets.org provides some perspective on why making a vote for energy independence is considerably less “tough” than facing insurgencies funded by petrodictators in the Middle East.