Prospects for Senate passage of climate change legislation this year were already slim, but this development may be the nail in the coffin:
Leading Democratic senators tasked Joe Lieberman on Thursday with finding a compromise measure that would satisfy a diverse caucus split between doing energy-only legislation or a more comprehensive approach to climate change, Democratic aides said.
While the fact that Senator Lieberman lends his name to the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act may relieve some casual observers, he will almost certainly advocate an energy-only approach. As Chris Bowers notes, it is hard to imagine Senator Lieberman pushing for the progressive approach here. For a preview of how he’ll justify his decision to think small, we can look back to his remarks on the subject six months ago:
"I don’t think the Senate has an appetite for another such epic, polarized legislative war this session," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who met with Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday to strategize on how to enlist support for a compromise climate bill they are writing.
Now, I’m increasingly convinced that a bill that doesn’t explicitly address climate change is the best path forward this year. As unfortunate as it is, the United States Senate simply is not in the right place to do what needs to be done: put a price on carbon. Even the Kerry-Lieberman effort to lure Republican support by incorporating many Republican ideas into the legislation fell flat, failing to attract a single cosponsor. I’d be happy with a bill that made investments in clean energy and efficiency, while also holding BP accountable and tightening oil industry regulations. I’d be even happier if they moved a bill like that and allowed amendment votes on implementing a Renewable Electricity Standard, banning offshore drilling, making major investments in high speed rail and providing federal grant money to innovative transit solutions.
But that doesn’t appear to be the direction Reid is steering Lieberman:
Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut, was asked to work with Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to find a compromise.
As David Dayen has repeatedly explained, Bingaman’s ACELA package that passed the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year is quite possibly worse than the status quo. It is the weakest form of energy-only legislation currently on the table, and it more closely reflects something you’d expect Republicans to put forward than what you’d hope to see from Democrats.
And Max Baucus, as evidenced by his role in the health care debate, is just about the last person you’d want to get input from on something this important. He seems more interested in slow-walking legislation for the sake of the appearance of bipartisanship than actually addressing problems. On top of that, Baucus has never shown an actual interest in or understanding of taking serious action on climate change or energy.
Meanwhile, there are several Senators who actually understand the scope of the problem and have worked for years to address it:
Senator Boxer was squeezed out of negotiations last fall after Republicans in her committee orchestrated a massive temper tantrum and failed to show up for a vote.
And Senator Merkley is outlining a proposal today to significantly reduce demand for oil.
It isn’t clear why these three Senators — folks who actually have good ideas on the issue — aren’t being asked to help plot out the path forward.
Putting Joe Lieberman in charge of plotting the path forward, and instructing him to do so with the input of Senators Bingaman and Baucus, is a surefire recipe for screwing up a rare opportunity to move decent legislation. When Lieberman botches this, Senator Reid will share the blame.