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.

This 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.