Barack Obama is prepared to stake his own political prestige on getting climate change legislation through Congress, and would be willing to intervene directly to ensure passage of America’s first law to reduce the carbon emissions that cause global warming.
Nancy Sutley, who is pivotal in setting Obama’s green agenda as the chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told the Guardian that the president is ready to use his considerable personal popularity to rally Congress behind a sweeping climate change bill.
Only President Obama can change the political dynamic and get an acceptable bill through Congress, particularly the Senate, in the next 12 months (see “Reid: Senate to wait for House bill, effectively delaying final bill until 2010. Here’s why that should be good news“).
If Obama is prepared to put his political prestige on the line for climate and clean energy legislation, as Sutley says, then its chances of passage increase sharply. I have confidence that Obama will do so because, since his election, all of his major appointments, actions, and speeches reveal that he gets it — by which I mean he understands that future generations will inevitably judge all 21st-century presidents on just two issues: global warming and the clean energy transition. If the world doesn’t stop catastrophic climate change — Hell and High Water — then all Presidents, indeed, all of us, will be seen as failures and rightfully so (see “The clean energy FDR: Obama’s first 100 days make — and may remake — history“).
The Guardian story notes:
When the bill is further along in the legislative process there are some things where it may make a difference in expressing a strong view,” Sutley said in an interview. “What [Obama] has been saying consistently is that he wants a bill and that this represents a very important step forward. ”
Congress is now working against a six-month deadline to pass a sweeping package of environmental legislation through both houses before the world gathers at Copenhagen in December for talks on a global climate change treaty.
Not quite. Both houses of Congress don’t need to pass it by December — and they aren’t going to.
The House Energy Committee, which is weighed heavily towards coal and oil state Democrats, was the first major obstacle for the climate change bill, and Obama drew on his political capital help get it passed.
The president invited key members of Congress to the White House to make a personal appeal for the bill. Those at the meeting say the pitch was crucial to securing the support of wavering Democrats.
Obama would be ready to take further gambles on his personal popularity, Sutley said.
She said he was unlikely to intervene in the near future to shore up targets for emission reductions — already criticised by some environmentalists as failing to go as far as dictated by the science to prevent a catastrophic rise in temperature. However, the president may feel compelled to step in to shield consumers from higher electricity bills. “He has talked about the idea that we have to think about consumers,” she said.
Hmm. Hard to know exactly what to make of that last paragraph, since the bill already shields consumers from higher electricity bills by explicit design (see “Exclusive report: Preventing windfalls for polluters but preserving prices — Waxman-Markey gets it right with its allocations to regulated utilities“).
Memo to Nancy Sutley: When discussing major legislation with the media — do not reveal the President’s bottom line, as that would tend to weaken his position in negotiation.
I’m going to take the optimistic view that some combination of the reporter and Sutley are confused and not up-to-date on the bill. That said, I don’t think the President is going to get involved in negotiating the intricacies of individual components of the bill. That is a job for others — not Sutley, but most likely Carol Browner, who oversees energy and climate at the White House.
In any case, the big take away is that Obama is invested in the process of getting this bill through Congress — and that means it is likely to happen.
Note: Yes, the phrase “Stop the Presses!” will soon be obsolete — and rather ironic for the dying print media. If someone has a better idea then “Stop the Servers!” let me know.