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The Way Forward on Climate

Everyone should definitely read Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker article on the death of the climate change bill. Then you should all read Dave Roberts and Kevin Drum on how the primary villains here are the US Senate as an institution, and the members of the United States Senate as autonomous moral agents responsible for their own actions.

But the question here is what happens next. What I know for sure is what doesn’t happen next, “Obama adopts better/different strategy and suddenly the Senate wants to pass a climate bill.” Not going to happen.

Which is why even though I’m sure Pete Rouse is a good guy, I’m not necessarily hoping he sticks around as Chief of Staff for very long. Barack Obama spent the bulk of his first 18 months in office engaged with the legislative process and especially with his former colleagues in the US Senate. There were a lot of good reasons to do this, but at times it has seemed as if Obama is doing the job of the Senate Majority Leader rather than the job of the President of the United States. And though I think they went a bit too far with this, the team fundamentally had a good reason to act that way — big majorities that got them some big bills. But after the midterms that’s going to be over. And that means the biggest impacts Obama has on the world will be outside the legislative process. Can he fix Afghanistan? Can he come up with the names of lots of smart, energetic, young lawyers to put on federal District Courts? And most of all can the Environmental Protection Agency regulate greenhouse gases?

Pretty much everyone would prefer an economy-wide carbon pricing scheme to an effort that puts EPA regulation in the lead. But the business community seems to be betting that they can get the White House to blink, and basically let corporate executives keep on poisoning the atmosphere secure in the knowledge that they’re pretty old already and probably won’t live to see the worst of it. The President needs to prove them wrong, and that’s going to mean an administration that’s much more engaged with the executive branch and it’s powers and less engaged with the ups and downs of the Senate schedule.

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