Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Four Years Ago Today, the House Passed a Landmark Climate Bill. Then It Died in the Senate.

On June 26, 2009, four years ago to the day, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey) in a close vote of 219 to 212.  I was somewhat surprised that Obama didn't mention this anniversary in his climate speech yesterday at my alma mater, Georgetown University. The ensuing mess in the Senate and the Republican takeover in 2010 ensured that we'd see no climate bill pass through either house of Congress since.  Unfortunately, we won't likely see one again in the future, leaving pressure for strong executive action and divestment the best near-term options.

It is also fitting that Ed Markey becomes a U.S. Senator four years to the day after the landmark legislation he helped draft passed the House.  He will be a great addition to the Senate.  Massachusetts has an enviable Senate delegation.

The passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act is a testament to Nancy Pelosi's leadership and the impressive vote counting and whipping skills she learned from growing up in a political family in Baltimore. The House was a much better place when she held the gavel.  The bill was not perfect, and it had gotten watered-down over time to secure votes.  However, since then, we've mainly just gotten inaction, bits of positive incrementalism like the increased fuel standards, and an aggressive assertion of power by Cass Sunstein's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to postpone or delay EPA regulations.

Politico's piece “Chaos, arm-twisting gave Pelosi win" from four days after the ACES vote is really a must-read.  You can read the full text above, but here's the first part:
After lawmakers had devoured the last of the Kalua Pig at last Thursday night’s White House Luau, Nancy Pelosi summoned her team back to the Capitol “” to ensure the climate change bill wasn’t the next thing roasted on the spit.

Pelosi and her top lieutenants would spend the next four hours whipping, cajoling, begging and browbeating undecided Democrats  and triple-checking their whip lists to decide who was a solid “yes” and who was prevaricating on the cap-and-trade legislation.

Yet no matter how many calls they made or how many times they checked and rechecked their list  Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) kept coming up between 12 and 20 votes short of the 216 votes needed to win.
“We didn’t have the votes and we had to have this vote,” said a leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This was the big one for us. [Pelosi] staked her prestige on this one. … This was her flagship issue, and this was a flagship vote for us.”

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 passed by only 219-212, after an epic day replete with Republican ambushes, petty betrayals, hastily rearranged flights and disappearing acts.

Yet for all the apparent chaos, the action was commanded by a House speaker maneuvering with the urgency of someone who knew her reputation was on the line.
Despite Republican promises to punish battleground state Democrats for supporting a “cap and tax” plan, Pelosi and her fractious caucus passed their most serious test to date.
And whatever the fallout, aides say that both Pelosi and President Barack Obama now know that their majority can hold together barely when placed under withering pressure which may bode well for the equally arduous trials on health care reform.

At the end of it all, Pelosi, who floated in and out of the House cloakroom all day, impossible to miss in an arctic-white linen pantsuit, gambled big and pulled off one of the most important legislative victories of her career, a win she views as a personal vindication, according to those close to the San Francisco Democrat.

“There’s no question about it,” Clyburn said after the vote. “She went back to her whipping days of old. She is an incredibly good whip. I’m trying to learn from her every day.”

Despite the most coordinated push yet between Democrats on the Hill and the Obama White House, the outcome was not certain until the very end, according to two dozen aides and members of Congress interviewed by POLITICO.

“It was really never a solid [216],” one person said afterward.

Party leaders agreed to bring the bill to the floor during a meeting Monday night, even though some of the members present had reservations about forcing vulnerable Democrats to cast votes on a package that may not go anywhere in the Senate.

In the days leading up the vote, the number of Democratic “yes” votes was locked at 200, according to people familiar with the tally. Every time they’d pick up one vote, another would slip. Democratic leaders needed a cushion to help protect the most vulnerable among them, and they didn’t have it.

As the frustration grew, an aide joked in one meeting that White House staff should give fence-sitters the same colored leis so that the president and his Cabinet secretaries would know who to buttonhole. The desperation was such that others in the room paused for a split second to consider the joke before abandoning it as a logistical impossibility.
During the luau, Clyburn set up shop in the Oval Office with Obama to meet with wavering Democrats, like freshmen Reps. Frank Kratovil Jr. of Maryland and Eric Massa of New York. Members of Clyburn’s whip team patrolled the White House lawn, cornering colleagues and making the case for the bill.

As the week wore on, Pelosi was directing former Vice President Al Gore whom to call, but everyone decided late Wednesday night that the list of undecided members was small enough that he should stay in Nashville, Tenn., to make calls.

On the day of the vote, the bleary-eyed tag team of Pelosi and Clyburn camped out in the cloakroom, just off the House floor, for nearly three hours.
Interestingly, the climate bill and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed the House with the same vote count: 219 to 212.  However, the breakdown of those votes differed.  PPACA passed solely on Democratic votes: 219 Democrats in favor, 34 joining the 178 Republicans against.   ACES, on the other hand, actually required a few Republicans to cross party lines. 211 Democrats voted for it, and 44 voted against it.  168 Republicans voted against it, but 8 Republicans actually voted in favor.  I'm not sure if Pelosi and Clyburn had locked in any of these Republican votes ahead of time, but the since-renamed group Republicans for Environmental Protection did support the bill. Which eight Republicans voted for ACES?

Mary Bono Mack (CA-45): 43% for 2009, 17% lifetime as of 2009
Mike Castle (DE): 57% for 2009, 65% lifetime as of 2009
Mark Kirk (IL-10): 71% for 2009, 68% lifetime as of 2009
Leonard Lance (NJ-07): 71% for 2009, 71% lifetime as of 2009
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02): 79% for 2009, 75% lifetime as of 2009
John McHugh (NY-23): 67% for 2009, 26% lifetime as of 2009
Dave Reichert (WA-08): 64% for 2009, 62% lifetime as of 2009
Chris Smith (NJ-04): 79% for 2009, 74% lifetime as of 2009

Mary Bono Mack lost to Democratic challenger Raul Ruiz last November. Mike Castle lost to Christine O'Donnell (Remember her?) in his bid for the Republican candidacy for Senate in 2010.  John McHugh was appointed by Obama to Secretary of the Navy in September of 2009.  Conservadem Bill Owens now holds his seat. Mark Kirk won a seat in the Senate in 2010  but has not carved out any particularly impressive or, at least, decent environmental record so far.
That leaves us with only four Republicans who voted for ACES and are still in the House.

Unsurprisingly, but depressingly, their environmental voting records (seen through their LCV scores) have worsened significantly.

Leonard Lance (NJ-07): 17% for 2012 (-54%), 34% lifetime as of 2012 (-37%)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02): 40% for 2012 (-39%), 67% lifetime as of 2012 (-8%)
Dave Reichert (WA-08): 37% for 2012 (-27%), 53% lifetime as of 2012 (-9%)
Chris Smith (NJ-04): 40% for 2012 (-39%), 70% lifetime as of 2012 (-4%)

They all seem less likely to support climate legislation now than they were four years ago.  Of all of the new Republicans, the only one who might--and I say that with a weak probability--support a bill would be Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08), who beat Patrick Murphy in a rematch in 2010.  Fitzpatrick's 2012 LCV score was 46% and lifetime score 54%.  That's not promising.

Now, let's look at the Democrats who didn't vote for the bill. Alcee Hastings (FL-23) was not there for the vote, and, frankly, I don't know why.

Pete Stark (CA), Peter DeFazio (OR), and Dennis Kucinich (OH) all opposed ACES from the left, believing (like Greenpeace and some other more left-leaning environmental groups) that the design of ACES could threaten the power of the EPA and that the cap-and-trade program would encourage Wall Street speculation.   Pete Stark lost re-election to a more conservative Democrat (Eric Swalwell) in California's non-partisan election system last fall.  Kucinich was redistricted out of his seat.
The remaining 41 anti-ACES Democrats opposed it from the right.  Most of the 41 got wiped out in the great Blue Dog massacre of 2010, some retired or lost last year, and only 8 are still in either house of Congress.

Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is now in the Senate.  His House seat is now held by Republican Jackie Walorski.

The other seven are in the House with their 2009 and 2012 LCV scores:

John Barrow (D-GA): 79% score for 2009, 20% score for 2012
Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ): Lost in 2010, re-elected in 2012
Jim Matheson (D-UT): 64% score for 2009, 17% score for 2012
Mike McIntyre (D-NC): 79% score for 2009, 26% score for 2012
Nick Rahall (D-WV): 86% score for 2009, 51% score for 2012
Mike Ross (D-AR): 71% score for 2009, 11% score for 2012
Pete Visclosky (D-IN): 86% score for 2009, 89% score for 2012

So, in other words, five of them discarded any pro-environment credentials over the following few years, probably after the 2010 election. Visclosky, whose record didn't crash and burn, is from coal country. It is not likely that any of them have warmed up to climate change legislation.

Not to state the obvious, the chances of passing any substantive climate legislation in this Congress are nil.  Sadly, I have little confidence in the Senate, where during the budget "vote-a-rama" significantly more senators voted to support Keystone than to support a carbon tax.  Barbara Boxer plans to bring the climate legislation she and Bernie Sanders drafted  in February (with the backing of CAP, the Sierra Club,, Public Citizen, and others) up in committee next month. However, I'm not sure if it could even make it through committee, and I'm doubtful that the companion Sustainable Energy Act could make it through the Energy Committee if it got a hearing either.  I commend them both, however, for continuing to bring attention to the issue.

I focused mainly on the success of June 26, 2009, and less on the following mess in the Senate.  (And it really was a mess, with even more logrolling or sausage-making than the House bill.)  However, I've included some good links below that discuss what happened, what went wrong, and what lessons we should learn.

Recommended reading

I've included a list of good articles to read about the failure of climate legislation in the 111th Congress.  Lizza's article is a behind-the-scenes piece.  The others debate what went wrong and take contrasting perspectives.

Ryan Lizza, "As the World Burns: How the Senate and the White House missed their best chance to deal with climate change," The New Yorker, 11 October 2010

Petra Bartosiewicz and Marisa Miley, "The Too Polite Revolution: Why the Recent Campaign to Pass Comprehensive Climate Legislation in the United States Failed," 14 January 2013 (Report commissioned by the by the Rockefeller Family Fund in conjunction with the Columbia Journalism School)

Bill McKibben, "Beyond Baby Steps: Analyzing the Cap-and-Trade Flop," Grist, 14 January 2013

David Roberts, "What Theda Skocpol gets right about the cap-and-trade fight," Grist, 15 January 2013

Brad Plumer, "Why has climate legislation failed? An interview with Theda Skocpol," Washington Post, 16 January 2013

Joe Romm, "What Theda Skocpol Gets Wrong About the Climate Fight," Climate Progress, 18 January 2013.

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