I wrote the other day that Congress has no chance of reversing EPA climate pollution standards by using the Congressional Review Act, Fred Upton’s smack-talking aside. The same can be said of bills introduced by Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas), which would permanently bar EPA from addressing greenhouse gases.
In the unlikely event that one of these gets through the Senate, Obama is certain to veto it, and there is zero chance it could muster the 67 votes needed to override. It’s all bluster, an attempt to push the frame of the debate rightward.
The only serious legislative threat to EPA powers is the proposal — relentlessly pushed in the Senate by Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and now introduced in the House by Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) — to delay EPA climate rules for two years.
The purported rationale for the delay is that the economy is in a recession. But let’s be clear: The purported rationale is bullshit. Nobody in D.C. takes it seriously, though of course the media is happy to play along. (Pointing out these kind of shared fictions counts as “bias” in media circles.)
No politician who thinks these regulations are going to be a crippling blow to the economy is going to be willing to give the economy such a blow in two years any more than they are today. The real intent behind the bill is to permanently block the EPA from addressing greenhouse gases. Capito, for one, makes no bones about it: “Although I do not believe the EPA should be granted this authority whatsoever, and I favor permanent suspension,” she says, “I am confident that my bill has enough support to seriously hinder the EPA’s power.”
Rockefeller, being a Democrat, has to be somewhat more circumspect. But he voted for Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution, which would have permanently crippled EPA, thundering in a floor speech, “I don’t care about the Supreme Court!” He has said that EPA regulations “offer questionable greenhouse gas reductions at the expense of business certainty and economic growth.” Is he going to feel differently in two years? Are economic circumstances going to change so much in the next two years that any senator will feel differently?
No. This is part of a concerted strategy. Bills like Blackburn’s and Poe’s push as hard to the far right as possible so that a two-year delay looks like the sensible “centrist” option. The point of the Rockefeller bill is to give “moderate” Senate Democrats a safe place to hide, where they can avoid offending both their corporate constituents and their clean-air-loving citizen constituents.
The question is whether enough of them will choose to hide there, or more importantly, whether Obama will hide there with them. Suffice to say, I think it would be a huge, huge mistake for Obama to back this bill as one of his signature gestures of compromise and bipartisanship. He must veto it.
If Rockefeller’s bill passes and Obama refrains from a veto, what will happen in two years when the delay is up? Well, the country will likely still be suffering 8 percent or greater unemployment. The Senate will already have gone on record ratifying the (false) notion that these regulations will cripple the economy. Obama will be in the middle of a heated campaign for reelection. An unusually large number of Dem senators with vulnerable seats will be fighting for their political lives.
Is there any doubt that in those circumstances the delay would be extended? What else could Obama say? “I wanted to protect the economy in 2010, but I don’t want to this election year.” And then in 2014, with a Republican majority in the Senate, is there any doubt that it will be extended again? Eventually, extension will become the default policy until a vote for a permanent block finally makes it through.
That’s the worst case scenario, but it’s hard to see any good outcome from such a delay, other than giving cowardly Dems a little temporary cover.
Losing this fight would be a disaster, and there’s no avoiding it. That leaves winning. Obama would be wise to start building a vigorous case before the American people — starting today — about why he plans to veto it if it hits his desk.