BREAKING out! Small spines on Democratic Senators! Having said "yes" to virtually every demand to water down the climate bill, the Democrats most in favor of the climate bill are finally beginning to say "no." And not a moment too soon, as Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) prepare to release their bill within the next two weeks.

Rumor has a climate bill being written during spring recess and introduced in mid-April. Lots of meetings have taken place over the last few weeks. Senate leaders huddled on Tuesday and Senate leaders huddled more on Wednesday, with bland official statements of "progress being made." Although rounding up all the leaks, spins, and flat-out falsehoods on the climate bill is a daunting job, some truths have begun to emerge.

1. Timing and Politics:

After healthcare reform, financial regulation bill is in the batter’s box. On deck: climate or immigration? Early reports of Charles Schumer (D-NY) arm wrestling Kerry for priority seem to have dissipated. It’s smart politics to take up climate first. The politics of the climate bill are as regional as they are ideological. Pass a potentially controversial climate bill now so that people have time to forget, or get outraged by the next big thing, over the next six months. And in the fall, a big push on immigration will energize Latino and other voters while exposing the teabagging right’s hard white underbelly of xenophobia and racism.

Last Tuesday, Senator Tom Udall and 21 other Senators petitioned Reid to move forward on the climate bill. The fact that the letter was written is mildly interesting. The fact that the letter was signed by a number of moderates and fence-sitters is arguably more interesting. Mark Begich (D-AK), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Jon Tester (D-MT), all considered "fence sitters," signed. (All descriptions of Senators are taken from the E&E list (2 pg pdf).)

2. Senators Say No to Republican Demands, Part I: Showdown in the Arctic Averted

A couple of weeks ago Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) floated the idea of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Reaction was immediate: a nonstarter, said Lieberman. (I’ve previously speculated that Murkowski made her demand so that her fallback position — a vast expansion of Arctic offshore drilling — would appear reasonable in contrast. Keep that in mind as you read on.)

3. Senators Say No to Republican Demands, Part II: No to Offshore Oil Expansion?

Last Tuesday, a group of ten coastal state Senators who support the climate bill warned that they would oppose a climate bill if it greatly expands offshore drilling. The ten Senators in need of carrots are both Senators from Oregon, Wyden and Merkley; Bill Nelson of Florida; and representing the northeast, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD.), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), and Jack Reed (D-RI).

Finally, Democrats show spine instead of acting like doormats for Republican ideas of clean coal and more drilling!

The Sierra Club’s new leader, Michael Brune, is helping the Senators flex their spines by warning the Senate that the Club might pull its support if the final bill contains unaccpeptable provisions, such as expansion of offshore drilling and gutting of the Clean Air Act’s authority.

4. Structure and Substance of the Bill

Cap and trade is dead, reads the NYT’s eulogy. (Just like healthcare reform died in January?) The final bill may incorporate elements of the Cantwell-Collins cap and dividend CLEAR plan in which permits are auctioned off (not given away) and partial rebates given back to consumers. For that consumer-friendly approach, AARP has announced its support for CLEAR.

Per anonymous sources at Reuters, last Friday night’s news dump contained details: free permits, $10 billion to encourage "clean coal" (note that this is actually a fairly cheap unicorn to chase), and replacement of the renewable energy standard with a clean (renewable plus nuclear) energy standard.

And today, Politico leaks more details: a carbon tariff, which midwestern Democrats consider essential (but Obama opposed last year), a carbon tax on gasoline (which Graham says won’t hurt consumers because they’ll get those CLEARish rebates), and preemption of California and other states’ emissions standards.

It must be emphasized, especially with anonymous sources, that these details may or may not be accurate when the final bill is unveiled. Today, Climatewire reports that permits won’t be free — instead, the food fight over allocations is just beginning, and is expected to go down to the wire. Either Reuters or Climatewire is right on permits/allocations, but not both.

5. So will a bill be passed this year? Consult the Magic 8 ball ————>

Who’dathunk that passing healthcare reform would be so good for the orthopedic health of Democratic Senators?