Saturday, April 24, 2010

Carbon Pricing

Via TPM, it looks like the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill is going to end up watering down the existing watered-down climate warming proposals in at least three ways:
  • Carbon pricing will be delayed until 2013 instead of 2012.
  • A ceiling on carbon prices will be set at $25/ton, instead of the previous goal of $30/ton. For comparison, the current price of carbon on the EU exchange is just under 15 Euros/ton. A UK panel has suggested a floor price of 15 Euros per ton, and that prices up to 100 Euros per ton may be necessary to spur the appropriate level of investment.
  • The government will extend various subsidies to the nuclear industry, such that at least 12 new power plants can be built.
All in all, this feels like weak tea. Especially when you consider that, as we saw with health care and we will probably see with financial reform, Senators who want to offer strengthening will probably be beaten back in an effort to hold the existing compromise together.

And of course here we have the saddest lines of the whole piece:
Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said the bill may contain items considered necessary to get votes.

Asked whether the legislation might be too weak from an environmental standpoint in order to lure Republican support, Claussen said, "No. People whose major concern is climate change have to temper their ambitions.

"The reality is you have to get 60 votes (in the Senate) for anything to happen," Claussen said.
Once again, let's be very clear on this. The Senate is populated by human beings. Prior to roughly 1992, the human beings who populated the Senate adhered to the norm that filibusters were rarely, if ever, utilized. There's nothing preventing the human beings who currently populate the Senate from returning to those norms. Likewise, there's no reason to view Rule XXII as a commandment handed down from on high; the rule was made by Senators, and it could be unmade by a different set of Senators.


low-tech cyclist said...

Forget filibuster reform/abolition for just a minute: why couldn't the Senate Dems simply choose to pass cap-and-trade via reconciliation?

Sure, if you pass it through reconciliation, it goes away after 10 years. But it seems to me that the big problem with dealing with global warming is getting started in time.

low-tech cyclist said...

Now, about that filibuster reform: I think the Dems are blowing an opportunity right now to exercise their authority under Article I, Section 5, and set a valuable political precedent.

The argument for waiting for January is that the incoming Senate won't have given its implied consent to the pre-existing rules by operating under those rules.

The arguments against waiting for January are fourfold:

1) Regardless of the argument for waiting for January, what it takes to change the rules is the same at any time: the votes of 50 Senators, and the willingness of the President of the Senate to overrule the inevitable ruling by the Senate Parliamentarian that a 2/3 majority is required; and

2) there won't be as many Dems in January as there are now, so finding 50 votes will be more of a challenge.

The Dems could find themselves with as few as 50-51 Senators in their caucus in January, two of whom will be Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. The Dems simply may not have 50 votes for changing the rules, come January.

3) If the Dems lose 6-8 seats in November, any effort to change the rules to make it more possible to govern with a bare majority will be portrayed as an effort to undo the results of the election by changing the rules.

I know it's unfair, but it'll happen, it'll be echoed by the Villagers, and it'll be a PR disaster. We all know how this game is played, and we can expect the GOP to play it with its usual ruthlessness, and for the pundits to be worse than useless.

4) Finally, the Dems have a real opportunity now. If there's any sillier aspect of Rule 22 than allowing filibusters of a Motion to Proceed - i.e. voting to keep debating whether or not a bill should be debated - I can't think of it.

It may not be the silliest thing in the Senate rulebook (the need for unanimous consent to hold committee meetings after 2pm is certainly sillier), but it's the silliest one that gets regularly invoked. And the Dems are going to force the GOP to invoke it all week.

So NEXT week, the Dems should vote to change the rule so that a motion to proceed can't be filibustered.

With 59 Senators, they have at least a decent chance to get 50 votes for the rule change. And there'd be no really good PR argument against their doing so - sure, it's a bit of strong-arming, but no matter how much fuss Fox News or Rush Limbaugh or even the Villagers raise over the change, most people will have no idea what the fuss is about, and any effort to get people riled up about it will be doomed to failure.

That's what they SHOULD do. But sadly, they won't. Sigh.