Breaking: Boxer and Kerry to delay introducing climate bill — thank goodness (again)!

UPDATE:  A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Jim Manley, just released the following statement:  “Senator Reid appreciates the leadership of Senators Boxer and Kerry as they shepherd this important legislation through their respective committees.  They are working diligently to craft a well-balanced bill and Senator Reid fully expects the Senate to have ample time to consider this comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation before the end of the year.”

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have just released a joint statement:

The Kerry-Boxer bill is moving along well and we are looking forward to introducing legislation that will create millions of clean energy jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and ensure American leadership in the clean energy economy.

Because of Senator Kennedy’s recent passing, Senator Kerry’s August hip surgery, and the intensive work on health care legislation particularly on the Finance Committee where Sen. Kerry serves, Majority Leader Reid has agreed to provide some additional time to work on the final details of our bill, and to reach out to colleagues and important stakeholders.  We have told the Majority Leader that our goal is to introduce our bill later in September. delay from the planned Sept. 8 rollout for climate bill strikes me as a good idea.  A month ago I had written “Looks like no Senate vote on climate and clean energy bill until at least November “” thank goodness!”  I have said many times “Obama can get a better climate bill in 2010” “” although that is true only if he and Congress have a coherent strategy to do just that, which at this point, they don’t (see below).  The reality is that given conservatives’ immoral intransigence and progressives’ generally lame messaging, my statement should be revised to “Obama can get a climate bill — but only in 2010.”

To the extent Boxer and Kerry are taking this time to develop a better bill and a coherent messaging/outreach strategy, that is all to the good, because it’s increasingly clear we are going to get precisely one shot at this.  I had written in July:

Since the CBO has made clear that health care reform is tougher than climate action (also see here) and since conservatives see blood in the water (see TP’s Inhofe: If GOP Can ‘Stall’ Or ‘Block’ Health Care Reform, It Will Be ‘A Huge Gain’ For The 2010 Elections) and since the  Senate will try to do health care first and since tortoise-like Senate floor debates are a lot longer than hare-like House debates, it is all but impossible to imagine the Senate vote on a climate bill before November.

Now it is officially impossible to imagine a Senate vote before November.  And I’d say it’s now at most 50-50 the vote isn’t until December or January, which would put a final bill, conferenced and passed again by both House and Senate, on Obama’s desk maybe in March.  That should not be a surprise to CP readers.

I’ll update my July 4-part analysis below:

1.  Senators just won’t vote for a bill written by House members.  Not invented here.  Also, Majority Leader Reid said the bill is going to be pieced together from several committees, some of whom are very actively focused on health care.  So no bill capable of getting 60 votes currently exists and won’t until late September at the earliest.

Now the individual bills won’t be finished until late September, so the merged bill may not exist until early October.  Ideally, Kerry and Boxer will take the extra time to get Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) on board.  He is chair of the “the influential U.S. Senate Finance Committee,” as his website puts it and very busy on healthcare.  To the extent that he supports the Boxer bill and Finance agrees with EPW, the bill has a better chance of moving.

Memo to Boxer and Kerry:  Can we please do better than the “Kerry-Boxer bill”?  The House bill was California-Massachusetts.  Olympia Snowe (R-ME) would be nice.

2.  Up until the last week or two, the deniers and dirty energy bunch had been eating our lunch politicking on the climate bill. We’re finally getting organized but we need all of August and September just to catch up.

Hmmmmm.  If only some newspaper like, say, the Washington Post, would report on how well we’re getting organized and how the polling is still good….   Nah.

3. Obama needs some sort of serious announcement from China that it is going sharply change its business as usual emissions path (see “Does a serious bill need action from China?“).  The good news is that the Administration has been pursuing that aggressively (see “Exclusive: Have China and the U.S. been holding secret talks aimed at a climate deal this fall?“).  Now I’m told by a non-government source who spends a lot of time talking to the Chinese about climate and clean energy that China is prepared to make such an announcement, but probably not until Obama visits the country after the APEC meeting in mid-November.  If this is true, then administration and Senate leaders should delayed a final Senate vote until after that.

Well, this key element looks like it is taking shape (see “Peaking Duck: Beijing’s Growing Appetite for Climate Action” and ” ‘China will sign’ global treaty if U.S. passes climate bill, E.U. leader says“).

I see little point in a final Senate vote before China spells out at least some of what it is planning to do.

4.  The next stage of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen the first two weeks in December is very unlikely to result in a final deal, but it is likely to move the ball forward.  If so, it might be better to have the Senate vote afterwards.  Right now, the fence-sitting Senators are looking at the international scene through the lens of a dozen years of stagnation.  It seriously undermines potential support for U.S. action.  Some genuine progress at the international level could give Senators the kind of pivotal and historical role they see themselves as asserting.

That remains as true as ever.

But most important of all is that team Obama and the Senate leadership learn from the health care reform morass/debacle and get in front of the messaging and framing of the climate bill.  The climate bill is, as noted above, actually easier from a political perspective than health care reform — in part because our side has a clear, winning positive message.  But we still only have half a message — and in September I will lay out the rest of the message.

9 Responses to Breaking: Boxer and Kerry to delay introducing climate bill — thank goodness (again)!

  1. Frank C. says:

    My only concern is that Kerry is not known as a skilled message guy. He is a policy literalist, likes to get wonky with policy, and prefers bullet-point position listings and benefits rather than framing and easy-to-understand language with emotional and values components.

    However, we can hope that he will take the communications advice of those that do have these skills. Unfortunately he didn’t during his presidential campaign. As for Boxer, she is unproven as a message person in a national bill, in my view.

    Maybe Obama’s communications shop will lend a hand and direct it behind the scenes.

  2. Eric L says:

    I just can’t bring myself to believe you on 2010. Think about how much harder it will be to pass health care reform now than it would have been a month ago. And nothing worthwhile is better done in an election year. It’s hard to say what the “death panels” of the climate bill will be, but no doubt there will be plenty of ridiculous attacks. It seems the best plan is to keep the focus on health care and then have a bill ready to go quickly by the time that is done. The best strategy for opponents will be similar to the best strategy for health reform opponents: delay, say we need more time to get something bipartisan, etc.

    Oh, and the best shot for a productive outcome for the Copenhagen talks is if the US has proven they will take action on this.

    Oh, and a sufficient bill on the first shot is not a political possibility, and the best shot for an improvement in whenever the next climate bill comes is if 1) we prove now that it is possible to pass a bill and 2) international talks are successful and China takes comparably serious action.

    [JR: The bill won’t be law before 2010. That’s a done deal. Senate action before Copenhagen is probably 50-50.]

  3. paulm says:

    Kerry gets Climate Change…

    We Can’t Ignore the Security Threat from Climate Change

    The truth is that the threat we face is not an abstract concern for the future. It is already upon us and its effects are being felt worldwide, right now. Scientists project that the Arctic will be ice-free in the summer of 2013. Not in 2050, but four years from now.

    Make no mistake: catastrophic climate change represents a threat to human security, global stability, and — yes — even to American national security.

  4. Scott says:

    I seriously doubt that Waxman-Markey, or anything like it, will ever become law.

    [JR: Ever? That’s silly. Right now, “anything like it” is probably only 3 to 5 votes in the Senate away from beating a filibuster. But the climate is gonna get a lot worse and “ever” is a long, long time.]

    I’ve long encouraged my friends in the AGW movement to consider changing gears from a strategy of trying to statutorily restrain emissions to one of negating their undesirable effects. There are some preliminary efforts underway along these lines, and that’s good.

    But I think it’s a pipedream to believe that we’ll ever genuinely be able to cut global GHG emissions to the levels considered necessary to contain the climatic impacts. Even if we could cap emissions in the US and other major industrialized nations, there are too many ambitious and needy countries out there which would gladly pick up the slack to bolster their own economic fortunes.

    We can’t expect to herd cats that way. As such, I think it’s time for Plan B.

  5. Erik Schimek says:

    Typo: Olympia Snowe (R-ME)

  6. James Salsman says:

    “Olympia Snowe (R-CA) would be nice.” CA? What is that supposed to mean? She’s from Maine.

    [JR: It’s called a typo.]

    Imagine you had only one bill you could pass, which would set the price of wind power at a certain percentage (less than 100%) of coal power, and subsidize plug-in hybrids, too. Let’s say that the O.M.B. tells you you need to amortize the long-term cost-benefit ratio down to 10 years so that health care can pass under the same rules.

    Would you tell the O.M.B. that they are stupid for limiting legislator’s information only to a 10 year period? Or would you just tell them that the amortized 10 year bang-per-buck ratio is 7 (seven)?

    So, at what level would you subsidize the wind power? 90% of coal? 85%? 95%? At some point the returns diminish. What is that point?

  7. Bob Wright says:

    A lot of fired up town hallers have already conflated health care and climate change bills as part of the vast Obama socialist conspiracy dreamed up by Rush, Glenn Beck and company. Meanwhile organizations like Greenpeace are taking the enthusiasm out of those who want the right thing done with an uncompromising purist attitude. Things don’t look great right now.

  8. Jim Bouldin says:

    Joe, thanks for your work on this. Doesn’t anything emerging from Copenhagen also have to be ratified by Congress? Might such be a second chance if the Senate bill doesn’t pass?

    [JR: The answer to your first question is “probably not.” I have partly explain the reason why in earlier posts. I’ll blog on it again later. Fundamentally, countries are probably going to be allowed to meet targets through the totality of the measures they have committed to.]

  9. Sam Penrose says:

    Joe: you seem clearly to feel that something like the UK 10:10 Campaign ( is not an appropriate political strategy. I apologized if I’ve missed it in your prolific output, but can you explain why we can afford not to be much more aggressive than Waxman-Markey per these arguments:

    [JR: I don’t follow what you’re asking. 10:10 is fine — but won’t change things. Help get 60 votes for the Senate version of Waxman-Markey — and then we can work on something more aggressive. Right now, this would be the greatest achievement in US environmental history. Gotta run really, really fast before you can fly.]