Swing-vote Snowe on Reid ‘mega-bill’ strategy: “You give people plenty of reasons to vote against this” by combining energy and climate legislation

Apparently Henry Waxman (D-CA) has sold both Harry Reid (D-NV) and the White House on the strategy of having a mega-bill that combines climate and energy legislation. This post explains why I believe that is both a tactical and strategic mistake.

E&E News PM (subs. req’d) reports tonight:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) confirmed today that he will package energy and global warming measures together into one large bill for consideration later this year, a decision that should put to rest questions about whether Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have different strategies for one of President Obama’s top agenda items.

Reid gave only a one-word answer — “yes” — when asked whether he planned to wrap a cap-and-trade bill together with separate bills establishing a nationwide renewable electricity standard (RES) and promotion of a modernized grid that can improve energy efficiency, reliability and renewable energy management.

There are three reasons this is a bad idea — two that are obvious to all, one that is apparently not. First, the climate bill is huge and complicated and uber-controversial and will be exceedingly difficult to get to Obama’s desk this year according to everybody I talk to (see “Breaking: Sen. Boxer makes clear U.S. won’t pass a climate bill this year“). So that means we are delaying important clean energy and smart-green grid bills that could otherwise probably get passed by the end of the summer (and quickly start help Obama meet his crucial promise of doubling renewable power in his first term):

But not everyone is on the same page.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said earlier today that he wants to mark up the energy and “smart grid” legislation next month and he still has doubts whether a cap-and-trade bill can move within the same timeframe. “I hate to see all of that sort of held hostage until we can get agreement on a cap-and-trade bill,” he told reporters today.

Second, and more importantly, the climate bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that any Congress will ever consider. You don’t want to add stuff to it that will lose votes or give people an excuse to vote against it. The RES in particular may prove unpopular with people who might otherwise be inclined to vote for the climate bill — since the whole point of a cap and trade is that you don’t force everybody to do exactly the same thing, whereas the point of the RES is that every state is being mandated to adopt the same percentage of renewable power.

Remember, we aren’t trying to get conservative GOP votes here. That is, sadly, hopeless (see “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh“). We are trying to keep all the conservative Democrats in line and get the few remaining swing Republicans who are open to serious climate action. The former may not like the RES or who knows what else gets stuffed in on the energy side. And at least one of those swing Republicans doesn’t seem to like this idea:

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), a critical swing vote for Democrats as they pursue Obama’s agenda, said she was not aware of Reid’s new position on combining energy and climate. Even so, she said she had some concerns with the approach. “I think you have to be careful not to make things such mega-bills,” she said. “You give people plenty of reasons to vote against this.”

Third, and apparently inside-the-Beltway Democrats just don’t seem to get this — but the public and the media and most opinion makers are still stuck in the frame of mind set by the last president. Eight years of denial and muzzling of climate scientists, coupled with everybody’s obvious attention being focused increasingly on the dire economic situation for the past six months, means climate change has fallen off of the radar as a top-tier issue.

Getting the kind of strong climate legislation that will be needed to avert catastrophe will require all of the messaging skills of President Obama and his team, which are necessarily focused elsewhere for the next few months. In short, as I’ve said many times, Obama can get a better climate bill in 2010 — but only if congressional leaders work with him to make that possible. Rushing through complicated mega-bells in the next two or three months mean we will inevitably end up with a weaker bill, indeed, a too-weak bill (see Sen. Bingaman doubts “the votes are there this year to pass” a bill like Boxer-Lieberman-Warner).

Here is the rest of the E&E News PM story:

As recently as last week, Reid had spoken of splitting the energy and climate items up into at least three different bills, with the energy provisions moving forward first while holding back on the global warming measure for the late summer. Reid did not elaborate today on his change of plans, and his spokesman, Jim Manley, declined further comment.

But sources tracking the Capitol Hill climate debate said Reid’s shift came after a month of intense lobbying for the one-bill strategy that originated with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Waxman first convinced House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on his approach. Pelosi, in turn, got approval from the Obama White House before pitching Reid the idea earlier this week during their weekly conference meeting.

Pelosi went public with her endorsement of Waxman’s strategy Tuesday. “I would like to see one bill, which is the energy bill with the cap and trade and the grid piece,” she told reporters. “They’re the three elements that we have to pass more fully. I’d like to see it as one bill.”

As far as timing, Pelosi and Reid have both promised floor votes this year on the global warming and energy measures, though they have been less clear about exactly when that may occur. Waxman has pledged a committee markup by Memorial Day, fueling speculation his measure could be handled by other committees that have jurisdiction on the issue and still be ready for the floor before lawmakers break for their summer recess in August.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill today would only point to Waxman’s Memorial Day schedule.

In the Senate, Reid had previously said he wanted to hold a floor debate in the spring on energy, while holding back on the climate bill until later this summer.

“This is a big beast, you can’t predict the timing,” said one former Senate Democratic aide.

Different views on one-bill strategy

There is plenty of different opinions about the one-, two- or even three-bill strategy on and off Capitol Hill.

“Personally, I think they go hand in hand,” Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in an interview today. “I’m very comfortable putting them together.”

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) advocated for the combination strategy as well, saying it helps lawmakers grasp the entire picture of what they are voting on. “You can adjust one in order to compensate for changes you might want to make in another,” Boucher said. “It does create a broader opportunity for balanced legislating. So I think it’s a better way to do it that way.”

Anna Aurilio, director of the Washington office of Environment America, said the logistics of the energy and climate legislation should be secondary to passing a measure as fast as possible. That said, she backs a single bill. “We want to get it done,” she said. “If it moves together, if it moves separately, we want to get it done. The urgency of solving the problem is paramount, so obviously enacting one bill is easier than enacting separate bills.”

… And Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) also found fault in taking energy and climate change up in one package.

“It’s an enormous undertaking,” Kyl said. “And I don’t think we’re anywhere close to having the information necessary to pull all of this off. There’s a great error being made here that we really know how to make all this stuff work. It’s a bit like running the banking and financial institutions. If you’re comfortable with the way we do that, well, then maybe you’re comfortable with the way we run the energy system of the entire country. I think not.”

13 Responses to Swing-vote Snowe on Reid ‘mega-bill’ strategy: “You give people plenty of reasons to vote against this” by combining energy and climate legislation

  1. hapa says:

    OTOH tying together carbon reduction and new equipment subsidies may be the only way to get private utilities to stop fighting the inevitable.

  2. lgcarey says:

    How is this not a recipe for disaster? Even if the Republicans still love fossil fuels and hate renewables, the public broadly supports clean energy — RPS and grid legislation are easy to sell (truthfully) as advancing clean energy in a big way and should be able to pick up a lot of popular support. But hardly anybody outside the wonks even understands the basics of “cap & trade” (heaven knows, I’m certainly still confused over some of the policy issues) – without a massive preparatory sales job to build public understanding and defuse the obvious, obligatory Republican attack (it’s a TAX!) it’s just going to sink under its own weight and complexities if introduced this term, and will take down with it anything attached to it.

  3. ecostew says:

    We should do an energy security bill, which mitigates AGW (while protecting food & water security) now! We can make significant progress on mitigating AGW without “cap & trade” and/or “taxing carbon” directly to mitigate AGW.

  4. Sasparilla says:

    Great article! I hope they go back to breaking it apart after its apparent the all in one thing won’t get passed, I hate to see the time wasted.

  5. I wish they would do it separately too. Energy bills first. We can pass them now we finally have 60 votes this year.

    Then try for cap and trade, or even better, a simple massive carbon tax/offset by equally massive payroll tax deduction.

    But you are wrong about this:

    “We are trying to keep all the conservative Democrats in line and get the few remaining swing Republicans who are open to serious climate action. The former may not like the RES or who knows what else gets stuffed in on the energy side.”

    For the last two decades, every time the Renewable Energy Standard came up for a vote, ALL the Democrats voted FOR it.

    (And the two ladies from Maine.)

  6. Buy flowers says:

    Great post! I appreciated……………….

  7. ecostew says:

    The Obama Administration must also immediately require that any federal action consider mitigating AGW under NEPA. States must be required do the same under their NEPA equivalents e.g., SEPA where there is a federal relationship. This requirement must cover laws such as the CAA (e.g., GHG emissions), CWA, ESA, etc. and be executed by all federal entities such as EPA, DOI (e.g., leases for resource extraction), USDA, DOE (including FERC), HUD. A focus of NEPA must be evaluating all alternatives with an emphasis on mitigating AGW while ensuring energy, water, and food security and protecting the environment. Alternatives, when appropriate, must consider conservation and efficiency. This approach, along with an energy bill that mitigates AGW can go a long way without cap and trade and/or carbon taxing. And, it can be done now!

  8. Philip H. says:

    I am going to disagree with the split it back out idea, for two reasons. First, energy policy is climate policy, which in turn is economic policy, etc. The reason we’ve largely failed to make systemic change is because we keep niggling away the individual pieces, not tackling the whole thing. The same approach, incedently, is what allowed the housing bubble and the credit bubble to be created and then popped.

    Second, if you run it through as a mega bill, you make it easier to identify those who oppose progress, and are happy to let things continue their downward spiral. Once so identified, they become better targets in the next election.

  9. Philip H. says:

    NEPA already covers all those laws – it’s one reason Environmental Impact Statements are thousand’s of pages long, instead of the 10 to 20 pages they were in the early 70’s when NEPA came out. Granted, not all agencies are good at fulfilling all their NEPA responsibilities, but that’s not because the laws are bad.

  10. ecostew says:

    They are inter-related e.g., getting a CWA or CAA permit triggers NEPA. Also, taking a federal action that doesn’t require such a permit e.g., leasing lands for oil & gas drilling triggers NEPA. The key is that federal action triggers NEPA (even funding) and it can be used to aggressively mitigate AGW and enforce ESA.

  11. ecostew says:

    A combined package of cap/trade and/or carbon tax and a progressive energy bill will not make it through the Senate – pass a progressive energy bill, which mitigates AGW. We need to demonstrate that the US is serious about AGW mitigation.

  12. Confused says:

    What’s “AGW?”

  13. wallemac says:


    Nailed it, nailed it, nailed it. I blogged on this about a month ago and came to the same conclusion. We need way more thought, tactical analysis and strategy on Cap and Trade/Tax before congress can do anything meaningful. Why the trade vs tax semantics debate could kill the whole bill, dividends or not. Folks may also be forgetting that if the anti-RPS crowd pulls the “states rights” argument out of their hat, then RPS could face tremendous headwinds.

    Slow and steady wins the race (but not glacial slow).