As I have said many times “Obama can get a better climate bill in 2010” – although that is true only if he and Congress have a coherent strategy to do just that (which at this point, they don’t, see below).

Since the CBO has made clear that health care reform is tougher than climate action (also see here) and since conservatives see blood in the water (see TP’s Inhofe: If GOP Can ‘Stall’ Or ‘Block’ Health Care Reform, It Will Be ‘A Huge Gain’ For The 2010 Elections) and since the  Senate will try to do health care first and since tortoise-like Senate floor debates are a lot longer than hare-like House debates, it is all but impossible to imagine the Senate vote on a climate bill before November.

And I’d say it’s at least 50-50 the vote isn’t until December or January, which would put a final bill, conferenced and passed again by both House and Senate, on Obama’s desk maybe in March.  That should not be a surprise to CP readers.

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No hurry.  Right now, the House bill starts its first cap in 2012, but in any case the cap doesn’t actually start to bite for several more years after that, so it is far more important that the one shot we get in the Senate is our best shot.  And we need time for several reasons:

  1. Senators just won’t vote for a bill written by House members.  Not invented here.  Also, Majority Leader Reid said the bill is going to be pieced together from several committees, some of whom are very actively focused on health care.  So no bill capable of getting 60 votes currently exists and won’t until late September at the earliest.
  2. Up until the last week or two, the deniers and dirty energy bunch had been eating our lunch politicking on the climate bill. We’re finally getting organized but we need all of August and September just to catch up.
  3. Obama needs some sort of serious announcement from China that it is going sharply change its business as usual emissions path (see “Does a serious bill need action from China?“).  The good news is that the Administration has been pursuing that aggressively (see “Exclusive: Have China and the U.S. been holding secret talks aimed at a climate deal this fall?“).  Now I’m told by a non-government source who spends a lot of time talking to the Chinese about climate and clean energy that China is prepared to make such an announcement, but probably not until Obama visits the country after the APEC meeting in mid-November.  If this is true, then administration and Senate leaders should delayed a final Senate vote until after that.
  4. The next stage of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen the first two weeks in December is very unlikely to result in a final deal, but it is likely to move the ball forward.  If so, it might be better to have the Senate vote afterwards.  Right now, the fence-sitting Senators are looking at the international scene through the lens of a dozen years of stagnation.  It seriously undermines potential support for U.S. action.  Some genuine progress at the international level could give Senators the kind of pivotal and historical role they see themselves as asserting.

I have also argued that the Obama administration needs to take its case for climate and clean energy action straight to the public, just as it is now doing for health care.  After all, a 2007 report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded: “The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.”  That disinformation and a status quo media have left roughly half of the public – the conservatives and conservative-leaning half – with the impression that global warming isn’t real and/or isn’t primarily human-caused and/or not a serious threat to Americans (see here).  Even so, a major survey finds overwhelming public support for action on global warming and clean energy and Americans support greenhouse gas regulation even if it could “substantially” raise energy prices.

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So the public just needs to be energized.  As I wrote in my January Salon piece:

The Obama team needs to spend a considerable amount of time giving public speeches, holding informal meetings with key opinion makers, researching and publicizing major reports on the high cost of inaction and the relatively low cost of solutions. That simply can’t be done over the next few months, when the administration’s focus must be – and the media’s focus will be – on the grave economic crisis….

Ironically, that also can’t be done over the next two months, since team Obama is focusing their messaging effort on health care (see Obama: “Those who are betting against this happening this year are badly mistaken,” the Democratic National Committee this week began running TV ads targeting many wavering senators).

Even worse, I’m told by multiple sources that the political operatives in the White House have bought into the ecoAmerica bullshit that we mustn’t explain to the public the serious threat posed by climate change (see Messaging 101b: EcoAmerica’s phrase ‘our deteriorating atmosphere’ isn’t going to replace ‘global warming’ – and that’s a good thing).  And bullshit it is (see Mark Mellman must read on climate messaging: “A strong public consensus has emerged on the reality and severity of global warming, as well as on the need for federal action” – ecoAmerica “could hardly be more wrong”).  That’s a key reason Obama didn’t even show up for the single biggest climate science announcement of his administration – the report on U.S. climate impacts – thus negating any impact it might have had on the debate (see here).

Of course, the White House doesn’t have any problem telling the public and the media day after day the myriad catastrophic consequences that await the country if we don’t act on health care (millions more without health care, a bankrupt economy, exploding premiums).  No, it’s only talking about the myriad catastrophic consequences that await the country if we don’t act on climate that is verboten.  That means most of the messaging will be on clean energy and jobs – which is a great message, one I’ve pushed for two decades now – but it hardly justifies or motivates a 42% reduction in CO2 emissions in two decades and an 83% reduction in four decades, along with all the extensive accompanying regulations.

Frankly, it is an insult to the public – and to members of Congress – to pretend that the overwhelming reason we are doing this bill is clean energy and jobs.

UPDATE:   We are doing this for two inseparable reasons, as anybody who reads CP – or even this blog post – knows.  We are doing this to transform our economy away from a catastrophically unsustainable emissions path onto a sustainable one and to create millions of green jobs.  But in fact the two arguments are inseparable, a point I’ve made many times – see “Climate competitiveness 2: When the global Ponzi scheme collapses (circa 2030), the only jobs left will be green.”

So, for now, we have truly lousy messaging.  And after the healthcare reform debate we might have only half a message.  If it stays that way, Obama still has a serious chance of getting a climate bill delivered to his desk in 2010 – if the four factors listed above play out favorably – but sadly it won’t be “better” than what we have now.

Still, a month is a lifetime in politics, so many things could change by late fall.  Obama might fail in health care, which many think would seriously hurt chances for a climate bill.  Or we might have a record low in Arctic ice or record global temperatures (see NCDC: Second hottest June on record – and once El Nino really kicks in, expect global temperatures “to threaten previous record highs”).

I’m now regularly reading to my daughter the tortoise and hare story.  The moral is “slow but steady wins the race.”  Let’s hope so.