Does the health reform morass hurt prospects for the climate bill?

Good question — but don’t expect many useful answers from the Washington Post, even though “The Post asked politicians, academics and others whether the health-care debate has made it unlikely that climate change legislation will be passed in the near future.”

The Post isn’t really interested in asking people who might offer an objective opinion.  The first answer they print is from Steven Hayward and Kenneth Green of the American Enterprise Institute.  Hmm.  I wonder if they’ll take the opportunity to diss the bill and environmentalists.  Last year, Green gave a speech in which he asserted such standard right-wing denier falsehoods as:

We’re back to the average temperatures that prevailed in 1978….

No matter what you’ve been told, the technology to significantly reduce emissions is decades away and extremely costly.

[AEI seems to have removed the speech from their website (excerpts here) — apparently they think people believe they are a center-right organization and don’t know they spout far right-wing nonsense when they think they won’t be caught.]

The second answer the Post prints is from a member of Congress — the only member actually featured in the print edition of the paper.  One guess which member they chose.  Yes, it was the uber-denier Senator James Inhofe (R-OIL).  Seriously what exactly is the Washington Post thinking?  Inhofe has spouted more disinformation on global warming than perhaps any other politician in the entire world.  Does the Post really need to give him a platform to rail against the bill?

The original question is a fascinating one, or it would have been had the Post defined what they meant by “near future”?  There never was a big chance of climate change legislation being passed this year — as I have been blogging for many, many months (see “Looks like no Senate vote on climate and clean energy bill until at least November “” thank goodness!“).  Also, I think the CBO has made clear that health care reform is tougher than climate action (also see here).

Rather than asking partisans on both sides, who are essentially forced to restate their basic positions, the Post should have asked some independent objective political observers — although I grant that such folks are harder and harder to find (see “David Broder is the sultan of the status quo, stenographer of those centrists who are fatally uninformed about global warming“).

The closest the Post comes is Geoff Garin, “Democratic pollster and strategist; president of Hart Research Associates.”  Garin at least has to preserve his reputation as a pollster and strategist, so his response is worth reading:

Passing energy reform isn’t any tougher because of the battle over health care. There is broad public support for an energy reform policy that reduces carbon emissions and promotes increased reliance on alternative and renewable energy. Americans believe it is urgent that we end our dependence on oil, especially imported oil, and see the development of alternative energy as offering real potential to create the next generation of American jobs.

This doesn’t mean that the fight to pass significant energy reform will be easily won. We will see the same kind of massive resistance by the Republican leadership on energy as there has been on health-insurance reform, and we will see the same scare tactics as well. But the public understands the stakes with energy reform even more clearly than it does with health reform, and at least a few Republicans in Congress seem to understand they will put themselves on the wrong side of history by standing in the way of a clean-energy future.

Of course, we don’t yet know how the health debate will end. I still expect Congress will pass significant reforms to protect consumers and expand access to affordable coverage — with virtually no help from Republicans. The bruising nature of the health debate might make a few Democrats more gun-shy about taking on another controversial fight, but success on health care is just as likely to create a template and a launching pad for success on energy. And if Congress fails to get anything done on health reform, the pressure to show some accomplishment on energy will be even greater.

I think that is basically right, although I must add that every sharp political analyst I know believes that if health care reform goes down, so will the climate bill.

For me, the biggest reason the climate bill is less likely to pass if health care reform dies is because that would probably mean the president hasn’t reversed his dreadful messaging of recent weeks — a point I will elaborate on in subsequent posts.  Put another way, if Obama’s climate messaging in the fall is as lousy as his health care messaging from this summer, the Inhofe-led deniers in the Senate won’t bother waiting for lunch, they will eat him for breakfast.

From a larger perspective, Obama can be a successful president without passing health care reform, since every prior president has failed at this difficult task.  But if he fails to pass a climate bill, then his presidency will inevitably be seen as a failure by future generations increasingly suffering the harsh consequences of our inaction.  I think Obama understands that and so I expect he will do what needs to be done to pass the bill.

14 Responses to Does the health reform morass hurt prospects for the climate bill?

  1. Ed says:

    Even if Obama passes the health reform and the climate bill in my opinion his presidency was a waste of time. The only way to stop climate change is to reduce consumption. Not just of domestic use of fossil fules in cars and houses but also in consumption related bound fossil fuels which are stored in everything we westerners buy which is produced in a foreign (usually third world or BRIC) country. A new car produces 100% of the running energy load during production (a Prius scores even worse due to higher manufacturing energy cost resulting from a more complex drivetrain) and that goes as well for TV’s, iPhones, computers and even solar panels (which have an eroei of approximatelly 4,7). I rather have no unusable and easily bypassible (via foreign so called CO2 fixation or forrest conservation) climate bill and full awareness of the consumerism equals climate change issue. This could then be used to put into place a scheme by which maximum individual energy consumption could be set (about 1 ton of CO2 per year per capita is max) which then could be coupled to all the products we buy. Money would not govern what we could buy, but CO2 production would. A scheme like this would result in a double economy for companies and people alike. It would push companies towards energy efficiency since more efficiently produced product would be desired by their clientelle. It would push civilians to demand these products. In the end it would dramatically lower the standard of living to something like the 1950th (minus the gas guzzling cars). But hey I never heard Elvis complaining, so why should we.

    Greetings, Ed

    [JR: I don’t agree with this analysis. Certainly consumption will have to drop at some point in the future, as I’ve said many times, but the place to start is with a climate and clean energy bill.]

  2. From Peru says:


    How can so much common people reject actions like the Health care reform?

    How can one want the government let the banks take breathtaking interests(that was once called usure, and was a crime) on credit that will make one slave on them for years?

    How can them, common people (not big-business or arch-millionaries) be against any measure to guarantee elementary social justice? How can words so sublime as “socialism” or “redistribution” be nearly a synomym of hell in the US?

    In my country (as in every Latin-American country), “right” is almost an insult. Right NEVER wins the elections (but ALWAYS the “left-wing” politicians turn to the right after being elected and the redistributive measures become clientelist and corrupt ways to buy people’s votes, but it is another story).

  3. From Peru says:

    Ed, how you could you set the amount of individual emissions? Maybe with “tickets” to buy goods like in the Soviet Union?

    Sadly such a scheme will cause inflation ans scarcity of goods,and them will be highly impopular . It will likely end in catastrophic hyperinflation and the emergence of a black market,with corrupt officials consuming without any control. That happened in my country in the late 1980’s. In the supermarkets you could only find hygienic paper. If you want to eat, you must buy food in the black market at astounding prices. Prices one day were twice the previous day. That is hyperinflation,a total disaster.

    That doesn’t means that the State should not control the economy using taxes.The goods that cause high emissions should be severely taxed, and the “clean” products should have minimal taxation. In particular, there should be targeted:

    1)Meat products,specially cattle beaf. Meat production emissions are second only to power generation one. Producing one kg of cattle beef produces 4 kg of C02, equal to more than 50 km in road. 1kg of pork produces 0,5 kg of C02, and 1 kg of chicken even less, but pork and chicken farms are an epidemiological timebomb, because there the pandemic flu is generated(as the current A/H1N1 swine-avian influenza pandemic), potencially killing tens of millions of people. So meat consumption must be drastically reduced. Vegetables should instead be minimally taxed, or even subsidized.

    2)High fuel consuming cars and trucks should be severely taxed. Hybrid/electric cars should be subsidized instead.

    3)Building energy autosufficiency should be a State politic. First,energy efficiency methods should be teached to common people. Second, people should receive incentives and money to put solar panels and wind powered electric generators in their houses. This will reduce electric power demand, and also reduce the people’s dependence to power companies. Imagine, free electric power!

    Whith intelligent policies common people will have more money than now (thanks to reduction of costs that will overweight the taxes imposed on goods).

    The big business will obvioulsly lose, but less speculators/polluters/explotaitors in our society isn’t a good thing for the common people?

  4. ecostew says:

    Well – passing progressive heath care (eliminating tiers of for profit) saves society $ just like mitigating AGW – how stupid can a first? world? country? be?

    lots of data (download the file near the top):,3343,en_2649_33929_2085200_1_1_1_1,00.html

  5. J.A. Turner says:

    The healthcare debate definately has sidelined climate action, and climate action is far more important. The President should have pursued an educational campaign on healthcare before tying up Congress in a hopelessly muddled melee. Both issues have been poorly handled.

  6. ecostew says:

    JA – sort of agree, but, some clarity!

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    THE ANSWER to the question in this article’s title depends in no small part on whether the MEDIA have learned from the health care morass and whether they take their role to serve the public good, by delivering fact-based information, seriously.

    IF the media have learned, then these predictable efforts to confuse the public and government can be seen and understood for what they are.

    For example — and just as one of many examples — given that it is the largest U.S.-headquartered oil company, and the most profitable company on the planet, it’s very likely that ExxonMobil is a major and influential member of the API. The API’s largest member, I would expect.

    Well, Rex Tillerson has quoted Bertrand Russell about how we must care about the world of the future, and about future generations. He did that over two years ago. (The speech is deep within ExxonMobil’s website.) Yet, more recently, he has said that ExxonMobil will just keep doin’ what it does best, for decades to come: finding, producing, and delivering oil and gas to the world. (By the way, it sounded from the article like he said that with a good degree of arrogance.) But, then again, ExxonMobil’s PR campaigns would like you to think that they care and that they are trying their best. But, then again, again, or again, on the other hand (I’m confused by now too!), if they are a key member of the API, then that’s rather confusing, isn’t it, because these API-led efforts are largely against effective climate legislation.

    Now, if the MEDIA do their homework diligently (it’s easy, and I’ve sent many of them a DVD shedding light on the matter), and if the MEDIA have learned from the health care stuff (for example, as Rachel Maddow has learned from it, and covers it quite well), then the media should be able to get to the bottom of the matter, including the confusions and the hypocrisy. But then again, if the media haven’t learned, or if they ignore their public responsibility so as not to upset advertisers, then we won’t see any of the story I just mentioned. If that’s the case, ExxonMobil can say one thing with the left side of its mouth and a completely different thing with the right side of its mouth, and the media will be silent. Let’s hope not.

    So, my answer is: It DEPENDS on whether the media do their job well. Simple as that.

    Bill Keller, Andrew Revkin, Jad Mouawad, and etc. — are you listening, please?

    We’ll see.


  8. jcwinnie says:

    JR, you mean, as compared to State Department approval of the pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands?

    Or, by posing the question, are you alluding to the profound health impacts of climate change?

  9. BBHY says:


    It seems that you are recirculating the claims from the immensely flawed CNW Marketing Research “study” comparing Prius and Hummer energy usage.

    The Pacific Institute has a wonderful paper refuting those claims in great detail with plenty of supporting data. In particular, it found that 85% of a vehicle energy use is consumed in the operational stage, only 10% in the manufacturing and 5% in disposal.

  10. J4zonian says:

    “There is broad public support for an energy reform blah blah”

    There is broad public support for single payer. It has meant nothing, as even the watered-down gruel of the public option has become the toxic waste of co-ops, which are destined to evaporate and become insurance company subsidiaries within weeks after being formed. (Might be an exxagerated timeline)

    I’d like to point out that the chances of getting heads on a coin toss are not affected by the previous tosses. Even if you get 500 tails in a row the next toss is still 50-50, ASSUMING THE COIN IS FAIR. However, if a coin came up tails 500 times in a row you might start to wonder if it’s not in fact a coin with 2 tails… and no head. And the fact that real health care reform came up DOA, face down in the river, whatever metaphor works for you, after 8 years (and decades before) of the country being moved to the right by absurd but widely disbursed lies about everything, suggests that the fraudulent coin with no meaningful difference between the 2 sides will also make climate come up the same way. One doesn’t cause or change the other so much as both reveal the influence of other factors.

  11. J4zonian says:

    “Producing one kg of cattle beef produces 4 kg of C02…”

    From Peru:

    While I agree vegetarian and vegan diets are in most places far more efficient, and should be widely promoted, let’s get it right–feeding grazers grain is what produces the enormous quantities of methane, and the inefficiences can be avoided–in SOME places–by use of organic, free-range, permaculture methods instead of industrial agriculture as it is.

    For example, in Marin County, California the Marin Carbon Project is experimenting with grazing and direct human use of perennial bunch grasses, grasses with roots up to 9 feet deep whose response to grazing is to let part of the roots die off, increasing soil organic matter and fertility and sequestering carbon. The use of permaculture techniques, including swales, forest gardening and farming, and perennial crops, may in the end be as important as the amount of meat in the diet.

    (I had the same trouble trying to cut and paste to quote here as I’ve had since your new and improved website unimproved it.)

  12. Ed says:

    @ BBHY, no way I am very well aware of that nonsense study. But the fact remains that production and consumption are of the map in most climate change studies. Direct energy consumption is only part of the problem of our western life style. When you and I would stop heating (and cooling in Holland we are suffering a heatwave right now) our houses en stopped driving our cars (or run them on wind generated power for that matter), and we would still enjoy the benefits of a consumer lifestyle we still would contribute to climate change. Everything we buy contains energy (used for mining, production, transport, advertising, selling, cooling, heating and what not). And since most of what we westerners consume is manufatured abroad we are importing GHG emission along with the product.

    This norwegian site tells the story:

    @From Peru (yep jalous indeed sounds a lot more promissing then from Holland)

    First, all of what ou say is true, except for on thing and that is using taxation as en environmental policy. We do that for years in Holland (and in Germany) and with verry limited succes. For instance SUV are rampend on the Dutch motorways and believe me, the highest elevation is 319 meters so use of these machines in terrain is rather limited (also due to lack of terrain since most of Holland is either, pasture, suburb, industrial zone or city). Taxation on fuel is among the highest in the world (1 liter petrol cost > 2 dollars -> for US citizens call 911 if you have experienced cardiac arest :-)). And still everybody jumps in their car and plugs it into its private hole in the traffic jam (usually 600 and up to 800 km per day on Dutch freeways). One thing did work, dropping all taxes on Priuses and Civici for lease drivers (number 1 lease car in Holland if this continues we will surpase Obama’s 1 million Priuses plan with ease).

    Taxing does not work, dropping taxes does (so far your half right mr. or mrs. From Peru).

    What I propose is rather radical and no it’s got nothing to do with the Soviet Union, would not wanna liver their and did not (freind of mine had relative in the DDR and we all celebrated with wine when the wall came down in 1989, so lets leave it at that). What I do however promote is this:

    1) Fighting greenhouse emissions is a war (look at the glaciers on the Andes peaks and remember your water is coming from those glaciers) and a complete and all out war with casualties all around. We are not talking about a mildly warmer winter, no iceskating on the Dutch canals and summers at the beach. This is war, we talking about drought, famine, biodiversity loss (au revoir Ursus Maritimus and au revoir Pantanal), disease, pest, plagues and what not. James Lovelock estimates that a warmer planet will have a carrying capacity of no more then 1 billion (1 x 10^9) were 7 billion populate it right now. I have not seen a war with that kind of casualty.

    2) We are running out of oil and we damned well need stuf to power our transition away from fossile fuels. Therefor usage should be limited. Small should be beautiful again, the throw away society should be done with,. Invest in renewables we should. For those who don’t believe this is an interesting place to dwell.

    3) War combined with shortages in the forsealble future equals rationing not taxing. We have don that in Holland already during the 70 when we were starved of oil due to an boycot from Saudi Arabia (we were supporting Israel and we were punnished). Prime minister Den Uyl responded in days issuing petrol tickets (50 liter per week not to be tranfered and coupled to the car not to the owner). And guess what it worked, no hamstering, no shortages at the pump, sundays were autofree (great for cycling and rollerskating over deserted freeways).

    What I want is a system were everybody is issued a fixed energybudget (next to his or hers financial budget which does not change of course, some make a bundle, the rest live on a normal budget). But for energy consumption we all are equal. All products have a price (in dollars or in our case euro’s) and an energy budget (in a new currence for instance the terra (not my idea but Juffermans idea). Now I can chose to invest in a Hummer or a Loremo ( that is entirely up to me, the lightweight Loremo will cost me fewer terra’s in purchase and in use (since it uses only 2 liters diesel for every 100 km). I can invest in art (for instance Damien Hearst) which is lots of dollars but a limited amount of terra’s or invest in a big house (which is lots of dollars but also a lot of terra’s). What would happen?

    1) Consumers would like to save on terra’s since terra’s saved could be sold (to the state which is oblieged to buy them back or on the free market). Thus a frugal lifestyle would pay for itself (thus helping the poorer parts of our society). Consumers who can afford to buy will be able to do so only if the less fortunate are able to save, so presure will come from rich as well as poor people on companies to as green as possible, local markets will flourish, products will be designed with energy consumption and longevity and upgradebilty in mind (my PC is 4 years old an could do with a stonger processor but HP tells me to replace the entire laptop which is NONSENCE).

    2) Companies would be forced by consumers to consider the environment since they could run into trouble with the terra budget of their buyers. For instance fashion is a nice example. Handmade textiles can be verry exclusive (Carry Bradshaw eat your heart out) and can be expensive, but they would not cost a lot of terra’s. Chinese made Louis Vuton’s bag’s would still be in the 2000 dollar price range for Europeans, but would be high on terra due to shipping while Frenche made Hermes (delightfull) would be high on Euro but lower on terra (all hand made, no transport). So a whole new playingfield for the economy would be created, no Soviet system but a sort of greened in capitalism. This will be the same for everything, economies would localize (food for Venlo was produced in its “bantuin” (surrounding gardin) until the 1950, now it is produced all over the globe). Not to say that multinational companies can’t exist (I own a RIM BlackBerry, like Obama, but his was probably made in the USA and mine was made in Hungary and it replaced a Sony Ericson which was made in China) they can jump in the localisation trend as well. More local jobs. also in refurbishing, recycling, restyling, restoring and yes reselling old equipment (Most stuf I buy these days is second hand, great money saver and environmentally sound as well, since no new stuff has to be produced when I give somebodies leftovers a new lease of life and bought online).

    So installing the terra globaly would create a greater equality, would not only stimulate the frugal use of energy, but would make unthoughtfull use almost impossible (or at great cost). And yes this would change the way the world works, but that has changed before (globalisation for instance was opposed but never challanged and changed everybodies live and usually not for the best). And if we do not act swiftly, socially sound, and effectivelly this world will change anyway and what that will do for our social cohesion, I really would not like to experience. Then a Waterworld/Mad Max 3 scenario (as James Howard Kunstler so vividly depicts in World made by hand) would be a clear and ever present possibility.

    Greetings, Ed Kuipers

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