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.