The passage of the House climate and clean energy bill last Friday is a particularly sweet victory for President Obama.
It's a major success on one of his signature issues, climate change -- which was widely derided as a non-starter in the down economy, and of little interest to most voters.
And overseas, where America has been the biggest roadblock to significant progress on international carbon cap negotiations, the bill's passage will help to repair the USA's reputation.
The president led personally last week on gathering support for the House bill -- both in public statements, and behind the scenes. "The White House and Democratic leaders in Congress were in top political form on Friday," writes Brian Beutler on Talking Points Memo, "ushering the Waxman-Markey bill to passage by the narrowest of margins.
In so doing, they picked off Democratic fence sitters strategically, to use what leverage they have to pressure Senate moderates into voting for passage as well.
For instance, a number of Democratic reps from states like Indiana, Missouri, and others voted for passage, which could make it harder for skeptical senators like Claire McCaskill and Evan Bayh to filibuster, or vote against it.
They also tailored the bill in such a way that it will be more palatable to Democratic senators from manufacturing states--like Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown in Ohio--than past climate change bills have been.
President Obama wasted no time on next steps for the legislation, using his weekly radio and internet address to exhort senators to follow the House's example:
Now my call to every Senator, as well as to every American, is this: We cannot be afraid of the future. And we must not be prisoners of the past. Don't believe the misinformation out there that suggests there is somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and economic growth. It's just not true.
... there is no longer a question about whether the jobs and industries of the 21st century will be centered around clean, renewable energy.
The question is, which country will create these jobs and these industries? I want that answer to be the United States of America. And I believe that the American people and the men and women they sent to Congress share that view.
But the president surely knows that however much leverage particular House votes will provide, it's going to be a tough road to push similar legislation through the Senate. "The horse-trading and vote-buying that helped House leaders secure a 219-to-212 victory will be magnified in the Senate," writes John Broder in The New York Times, "where several powerful committee leaders are already asserting authority and Democratic moderates hold more power than their counterparts in the House."
The bill's passage, even before the Senate takes it up, likely puts a strong breeze under the wings of Todd Stern, the State Department's special envoy on climate change, for better or worse: Stern last week rejected calls for the richest nations to cut greenhouse gas pollution 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. Scientists are saying the industrialized nations need to slash emissions 25-40% in the next 10-15 years, to curb the worst impacts of global warming. But the House bill mandates a 17% reduction in US emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, which adds up to around 4% below 1990 levels, and an 80% reduction by 2050.
Inside word is that the emerging economies, however encouraged they are by forward motion in the US Congress on global warming, will be skeptical of the United States' commitment to action unless it takes the 40% carbon cuts seriously.
Developing nations are also demanding aid from industrialized nations to help them continue economic growth while adopting clean energy. Countries like the USA, Britain and German got rich using fossil fuels, and are the primary culprits in global warming, goes the argument -- so if they want less prosperous but fast-industrializing nations like China, India and Brazil to curb emissions, they should share the wealth.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has proposed a $100 billion global climate fund to help developing nations de-carbonize their economic development and mitigate global warming's impacts.
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