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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Next Cookie On the Plate

Even before Congress negotiates the still-difficult straits of final action on health care reform, a debate is heating up, not least among Democrats, about whether or not to move on to climate change legislation.
Said legislation has already very narrowly passed the House, albeit in a form that disappointed many progressives to the point of near-disgust. But it’s important to note that there are two very different perspectives among those Democrats urging the administration and the congressional leadership to defer Senate action on climate change to later in 2010, or beyondf.
The first perspective is indeed ideological, but doesn’t neatly follow the moderate/progressive battlelines of the health care debate, despite Politico‘s claim today that “Senate moderates’ are the ones objecting to immediate action on climate change. As is always the case with energy and environmental issues, this is one matter where regional and home-state politics can still trump general ideology or partisanship. It’s no accident that “moderate” Mary Landrieu from the energy-producing state of Louisiana is in the front ranks of those calling for a delay in climate change legislation, or that “moderate” Joe Lieberman from the energy-consuming state of Connecticut, and no friend of the Obama administration or the Democratic Party, is heavily involved in efforts to move a bill. On the positive side of the ledger, this is the rare issue where some Republican votes are potentially gettable, which has been the focus of Sen. John Kerry’s efforts to work with Sen. Lindsey Graham of SC on a nukes-for-climate-change deal.
So a good understanding of each senator’s energy-industry links, or the lack thereof, is as important as ideological lables in predicting his or her behavior on climate change.
But the second go-slow or no-go perspective on climate change has little to do with ideology, and everything to do with political calculations. Like TDS Co-Editor William Galston, some Democrats think it is absolutely essential that the administration be seen in 2010 as obsessively focused on jobs. Yes, it’s possible to sell climate change legislation as a “green jobs” initiative that’s actually essential to long-term economic growth, but so long as we are dealing with double-digit unemployment rates, anything that can be caricatured as elevating the “green” over the “jobs” could be politically very hazardous.
One of the most commonly heard counter-arguments to the political case for putting climate change legislation on the back burner is the observation that this is the sort of initiative that progressives are elected to office to promote, and if they can’t get it done with a Democratic White House and 60 Democratic senators, when will it ever happen?
But in any event, it’s helpful to sort out the various substantive and political arguments on this subject, instead of imposing a cookie cutter based on the fault lines of the health care reform debate.

One comment on “The Next Cookie On the Plate

  1. Queen of Sheba on

    It’s amazing, Ed, that you would say that Joe Lieberman is “no friend of the Obama administration.” Not only did Joe act as Obama’s mentor when Obama won his senate seat; not only did Obama campaign for Joe in his Connecticut race against Ned Lamont; not only did Obama insist to Harry Reid that Joe be allowed to retain his committee chairmanship when he finally beat Ned Lamont and returned to the senate, but Obama has protected Joe from the “slings and arrows” of other Democrats during the health insurance reform debate. I seriously believe Lieberman was carrying the administration’s water during the debate, assuring the bill that came out of the senate was the one Obama wanted all along.
    I’m also wondering why it’s come to be accepted that the senate can’t walk and chew gum at the same time – that is, they can’t tackle both climate change legislation and a jobs bill during the same year. And to think congress still has to pass an immigration reform package before the natives revolt over the “illegals” – at this rate the Republicans will be back in power before the truly important work of this administration is moved off the back burner.

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