"Q: Does a climate bill have to be bipartisan?"
I’m updating my previous answer to this important and complicated question, but sticking with “no” for four reasons:
1. Against all evidence, conservative Republicans have simply refused to budge on the global warming issue (see “House GOP pledge to fight all action on climate. “Why do conservatives hate your children?”). They would rather destroy the climate than support any government-led strategies to promote clean energy (see “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh — what does that radicalism mean for Obama, progressives, and humanity?“). Indeed, they actually think they have a winning issue in attacking any effort to raise the price of carbon pollution (i.e. fossil-fuel-based energy): “Several prominent party officials said they believe the GOP’s message is fundamentally sound when it comes to energy policy, pointing to that issue as one of the few political bright spots in recent years.” I previously I don’t see that changing for at least several years.
2. Moderate Republicans are a vanishing breed — and the 2008 election booted many of the remaining ones out of Congress.
3 The most important thing is to get as strong a climate bill as possible over the next year. The Dems are going to have to compromise just to satisfy their own moderates (see “Moderate Senate Dems build ‘Gang of 16″² to influence cap-and-trade bill“). Weakening the bill further to get more than a few token Republicans would gut the whole effort.
4. China either embraces serious action sometime relatively soon after we do or they don’t. If they do, then gutting the bill sometime after that would be far less likely. If they don’t, then it is inconceivable the political will to endure strong domestic climate action will last very far into the implementation phase (i.e. very far into the phase when carbon prices and/or regulations start to bite). Thus, we need to maximize the likelihood that China embraces serious action and that again means we need to make our bill as strong and credible as possible. See “Should Obama push a climate bill in 2009 or 2010? Part I, Does a serious bill need action from China?” and “What will make Obama a great president, Part 2: A climate deal with China.”
But wait, you say. If the bill isn’t bipartisan, won’t the Republicans just gut it once they assume power? That is a common view — as E&E News (subs. req’d) reported in mid-March:
“If climate change legislation is passed on an absolutely partisan party-line vote, and unfortunately, that will likely be the case, there is a real concern that it won’t be durable,” said Jason Grumet, chairman of the 2008 Obama campaign’s energy and environmental advisory board, during a Washington panel discussion hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
That is typically a key political calculation: How much do you gut a bill now to avoid having it gutted in the future? But climate change isn’t like other legislation in part because other key countries either respond to us or they don’t (as noted) and because the climate keeps getting worse and worse.
Undoing or weakening a climate bill couldn’t happen until and unless Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House. If we are going to make super optimistic assumptions whereby Obama wins and gets reelected — and if we aren’t going to make super-optimistic assumptions then we aren’t going to avoid catastrophic global warming ’cause, like, the deck is heavily stacked against us and we’ll need runner runner to make a winning hand — then the earliest that could happen is 2017.
While conservative deniers/inactivists may think nothing much is going to change over the next eight years, in fact, by 2017, it is highly likely that all hell will be breaking loose — literally. Indeed, recent studies in Nature and Science suggest we are probably going to get quite hot quite fast early in the 2010s, and the coming decade is poised to see faster temperature rise than any decade in recorded history (see “Climate Forecast: Hot — and then Very Hot” and “Nature article on ‘cooling’ confuses media, deniers: Next decade may see rapid warming“).
Thus, most likely, future presidents and future congresses will be strengthening any climate bill, much as the nations of the world progressively tightened the restrictions on ozone-depleting substances as more and more countries joined the effort and as the dire nature of the problem became clearer and clearer (see “Lest We Forget Montreal“).
True, Obama ran as a different kind of politician, one who reaches across the aisle to solve major problems facing the nation. But the entire House GOP and virtually all conservatives in the Senate wouldn’t vote for a stimulus — and that was a progrowth nobrainer. The climate plan Obama embraces is one that affords very little chance of getting more Republican votes than the stimulus did (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 6: What the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill debate tells us.
Cut a goddamn deal. The orthodoxy that we are bringing to this discussion is amazing to me.
But there is no “deal” that preserves a livable climate and avoids catastrophic global warming impacts: Hell and High Water. Conservatives simply reject anything that would increase energy prices — and they don’t believe energy efficiency can keep bills low. And they will fight for industry giveaways that minimize the most important use of the revenues from carbon credits — returning the money back to the public.
Progressives want market-based, pro-innovation solutions to a problem that science and morality demands we address and address boldly. It is only conservatives who bring orthodoxy — a refusal to accept climate science and an unwillingness to embrace any strategy to solve any of the nation’s problems unless it is tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.
Ultimately, the right question isn’t “Does the climate bill have to be bipartisan?” but “Does the climate bill have to be?”