Obama meets with (too many) swing Senators on bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill

Murkowski walks back her ANWR demand

What I think Obama needs to be doing now is hard lobbying one-on-one with key swing senators.  That way he can focus on a targeted pitch for each one and have a frank discussion.  He needs to start moving people one-by-one from the “fence sitter” to the “probably yes” category.  Instead, he (and Energy Secretary Chu, Interior’s Salazar, and Ag’s Tom Vilsack), is meeting with a whole bunch of them at once, as The Hill Reports:

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — the group working to craft a bipartisan climate change bill — along with … Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), George LeMieux (R-Fla.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

That might have been useful a couple of months ago, but right now we are in the endgame, so I’m not certain a group meeting that large is terribly effective.  Obama should have much smaller meetings, directly with individual senators (or possibly a pairing where you meet with, say Gregg and Graham), ASAP.

Here’s some more background on the state of play of the climate bill for different factions, from E&E News (subs. req’d) today:

Oil and gas drilling: about 13 senators in play

… ANWR is a third-rail issue on Capitol Hill that has little chance of advancing given opposition in environmental circles. Landrieu last week said “almost everything else that’s possible” is on the table. And Robert Dillon, a Murkowski spokesman, said yesterday that his boss would not preclude voting for a climate bill even if it did not have ANWR. Several other senators come into play with the drilling language, including several who worked with Graham in 2008 on the issue as members of an informal energy “gang.” They include Nebraska’s Nelson, Corker, Lincoln and Pryor.

Yet Kerry and allies also must address coastal state lawmakers who have taken issue with drilling off their coasts. Sources say they are watching to see if any movement on drilling ends up losing reliable Democratic “yes” votes, such as Florida’s Bill Nelson and New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.

Good to see Murkowski walk back her self-destructive ANWR demand (see “Murkowski to Senate: Drill the Arctic or my state gets it!“).

Coal: about 20 senators in play

… Several Democrats have called for less aggressive emission limits compared with the 17 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020 in the House-passed bill (H.R. 2454). They want valuable emission allowances returned to consumers who could suffer from higher energy prices and want to strip U.S. EPA of its authority.

And they are seeking billions of dollars in cash to promote the deployment of “clean coal” technologies, such as carbon capture and underground storage.

Sponsors indicated they are willing to go along with many of the coal state senators’ requests, possibly freeing up votes from the likes of Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.).

But others have been much more hostile. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) disagrees with the push for a climate bill and instead prefers an energy-only approach. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) have questioned the economic costs of moving too fast and too aggressively.

And Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) has even unveiled a campaign ad touting her opposition to cap-and-trade legislation, a point not lost on Democratic leadership.

“It underscores the difficulties this bill faces,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “There’s large Republican opposition, and we’ve got at least a handful of Democrats, if not more, with concerns ranging from outright opposition to very strong concerns.”

Those who think a climate bill can be passed without a major effort to reach out to coal state senators aren’t paying attention (see “Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) joins key Dems in proposal to boost carbon capture and storage in climate bill“).

Nuclear power: about 18 senators in play

Provisions to promote the expansion of nuclear power in the United States means a large contingent of fence-sitting senators are at the bargaining table.Eighteen of the 30 senators on E&E’s list come from states that are home to commercial nuclear industries: Arizona’s John McCain (R), Arkansas’ Lincoln and Mark Pryor (D), Florida’s George LeMieux (R), Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu (D), Massachusetts’ Scott Brown (R), Michigan’s Levin and Stabenow, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill (D), Nebraska’s Ben Nelson (D), New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg (R), Ohio’s Brown and George Voinovich (R), Pennsylvania’s Specter, Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander (R) and Bob Corker (R), Virginia’s Jim Webb (D), and Washington’s Maria Cantwell (D).

Some details have already emerged on what will go into the bill for nuclear power. Kerry has promised tax incentives and loan guarantees. And Graham has floated a “clean energy standard” that would allow power sources to count new nuclear capacity alongside wind and solar power when it comes to reaching nationwide targets.

Lieberman took the lead on talks to write the nuclear title with about 16 Democrats and Republicans. He said in October that he did not expect to win everyone’s vote. But he said he would get enough to make it matter. “In the end, as so often happens in the Senate, if you get two, three, four senators to go one way that they hadn’t been, it could affect the outcome,” he said.

I think nuclear power has mostly priced itself out of the market, so this is about what level of subsidies people are willing to tolerate to get a few plants built.

Trade-sensitive industries: about 13 senators in play

… Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin of Michigan and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio are taking the lead on this section of the bill but have so far stayed clear of releasing any specifics.

“We want this bill to work for jobs,” Brown said as he left a meeting hosted by Kerry, Graham and Lieberman last week. “It’s ultimately an energy independence, jobs and environmental bill together. We don’t have details yet, but we’re making progress.”

Senators raising concerns about manufacturing issues intersect closely with the coal interests listed above, including Bayh, Specter, Rockefeller and Byrd.

Those four, for example, took the lead last summer in writing to Obama with a pledge to oppose any climate legislation that did not come with a “border adjustment mechanism” that would allow for trade sanctions on carbon-intensive goods from developing countries that do not have strong enough climate policies….

Obama had previously criticized such a provision in the House-passed bill. The senators also have requested “short-term transitional assistance” for energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries, as well as a more robust U.S. policy to measure, monitor and verify emission reduction plans from other countries.

This is a dicey issue, for sure, but one that experts on international trade tell me is solvable.

Sector-specific emissions limits: about 12 senators in play

The Senate trio opened some new doors with plans to scale back their effort on the carbon pricing mechanism from the sweeping, economywide House-passed bill.

See (“Graham, Kerry, Lieberman almost ready to run their bipartisan climate and clean energy bill up the flagpole“).

Last week, several moderates said they were more accepting of a phased-in approach for mandatory greenhouse gas limits, beginning with the electric utility industry and then moving toward manufacturers. They also said they would be OK with the nation’s transportation fuels falling under a carbon tax that rises based on compliance costs for the other major emitters.

“I think he’s trying to approach this in a creative way and I’m listening,” Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said last week after meeting with Kerry. “It’s better than where they started.”

“I felt I got a lot of what I needed, understanding the timetable and the schedule, and what sources will be regulated first, which won’t be,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

To be sure, none of the fence sitters said they were ready to vote “yes” based on the broad brush briefings they got from Kerry, Graham and Lieberman.

Still, the idea of a “hybrid” system that folds together a number of past legislative ideas on carbon pricing may end up striking a chord. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), two fence sitters, have been pushing for months an alternative plan for distributing emission allocations, with the bulk auctioned off and some three-quarters of the revenues returned to the public….

“It’s kind of like feeling the elephant when you’ve got the blindfold on,” Murkowski said. “The trunk feels entirely different than the tail and the leg. And right now, we’re just feeling maybe the trunk, and I want to know what the leg looks like and what the tail looks like.”

Hmm.  Interesting analogy, Senator, especially since Republicans are symbolized by elephants….

The bottom line, as I’ve said before:  Ultimately, the President is going to have to do exactly what he did in Copenhagen if he wants a bill “” negotiate directly with leaders and iron out a deal with specific language.  And I don’t think that can be done in a meeting with 14 Senators.  Today needs to be just the first of many presidential meetings key senators.

6 Responses to Obama meets with (too many) swing Senators on bipartisan climate and clean energy jobs bill

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    I agree: He needs to meet with them one on one. And more than once, if necessary. I voted for him, and that is what I’d expect and want him to do, at a minimum.


  2. I wouldn’t characterize this meeting as unhelpful. I think he is doing absolutely the right thing. And we should be saying that.

    [JR: I wouldn’t and didn’t characterize it as “unhelpful,” just not “terribly effective.”]

    There’s more than enough unfounded pissing and moaning in the press (the Hill, NPR, WSJ, and Cheney’s favorite Politico)about what-all Obama and Democrats are doing wrong.

    Boxer, the author of the original CEJAPA bill is hardly going to be a problem!

    Not one single Democrat listed here has EVER voted against renewable energy (=climate) legislation, since the 1993 BTU tax. Proof? The 50 clean energy roll call votes since 1993 are in here:

    Collins and Snowe always voted with us. Even the loathed Lieberman always voted with us.

    Brown is new, but he just wants jobs tied in:
    but that’s easily doable.

    The other 4 Rs Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), George LeMieux (R-Fla.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), have not voted with us before, and likely won’t now. But bringing Rs to the White House to pressure them might be a Democratic first so that is NEW and Exciting!

    New Hampshire has success under RGGI so Gregg has “green” fired-up constituents, just like 55% renewable Maine’s Collins and Snowe.

    Graham appears to be genuine in his conversion from dirty energy voter, (unlike Mccain)and if he votes with us for CEJAPA (mixed with a little CLEAR Act to help the medicine go down) then we’ll have 60 votes for clean energy policy: with Collins, Snowe and Graham.

    It is a really strong move by Obama.

    [JR: I have always been clear that if there is no bill, 90% of the blame would go to the disinformers and the antiscience ideologues. But that doesn’t exempt make progressive political leaders blameless.]

  3. fj2 says:

    Of course, if the President can determine which ones remain on the fence after this meeting he can still meet with them.

  4. Rick Covert says:

    I heard James Hanson on a podcast from Monday’s Late Night Live on ABC National Australia and he basically states that this 17% cut in CO2 levels over 2005 levels, in reality 3% reductions over 1990 levels is woefully innadaquate to 20% cuts over 1990 levels the science says we need to stay on the good side of 2º C of warming. OK I understand the need to set up the groundwork to build on but once this thing is done won’t there be no new additional initiatives until another 20 years from now? How does this get us to 40% CO2 emissions reductions over 1990 levels?

    [JR: Start here.]

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    So what are the President and the Senate going to give us?

    Nuclear boondoggle, clean coal hoax, offshore oil drilling, and drilling in ANWR.

    And oh, yeah: no limits on carbon pollution.

    I’m so glad that John McCain and Sarah Palin won the election.

    [JR: If there are no limits on carbon, I very much doubt there will be any bill.]

  6. prokaryote says:

    Some intresting insights of decision makeing. (Feedback, Status, Observation)