Yesterday, A Siegel reported that some, though certainly not all, environmental groups are pushing against strengthening amendments to the Waxman-Markey climate change bill. Since that time, more information has emerged that basically confirms, but does provide more context for, that report.
First, a environmental group staffer who wishes to remain anonymous emailed me to argue that all green groups support strengthening amendments in theory, but believe anything that significantly improves the bill would cause the coalition in favor of passage to collapse. Further, House committee staffers are in on the plan to avoid significant strengthening amendments, for fear it would cause the coalition to fall apart (more in the extended entry):
First, everybody supports strengthening amendments - there's just no viable legislative strategy for getting them. The vote margins in both the House and Senate are going to be extremely tight, and the only people that are getting amendments at this point are the marginal votes - Blue Dogs, aggies and the handful of remaining moderate Republicans. The people putting the kibosh on strengthening amendments are the committee staff - Waxman's and Bingaman's. They think they have the votes to pass these things, but only if the deals they made in committee are upheld. A number of groups are pursuing strengthening amendments, but anything major will upend the apple cart and committee staff aren't having it.
In public, Bill Scher echoes this argument. Strengthening amendments would kill the bill:
1. Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey had to do Herculean wheelin'-and-dealin' with fossil-fuel lovin' Dems to painstakingly piece together this compromise.
2. They did it without having any grassroots intensity in support of a strong carbon cap to hold skittish congresspeople's feet to the fire. In fact, Waxman and Markey had to do these deals precisely because they had no grassroots political leverage.
Which means pursuing last-minute amendments is futile.
There is zero reason to believe that the coalition could hold if any changes were made to the bill at this point. (Or to be more direct, there is zero reason to believe any amendment that would strengthen the bill would pass in the first place.)
Again, we see the basic theory: strengthening the bill would kill the bill. As such, it appears that some environmental groups, and powerful members of the Democratic leadership, are in fact working to prevent any significant strengthening amendments to the Waxman-Markey climate change legislation. That is the bizarre political contradiction in which we are now living.
(I do have a serious problem with Scher's argument that the grassroots should not be engaging in this discussion, and that they should instead focus on making calls in favor of the ACES. For one thing, the climate change bill already has enough votes to pass--it wouldn't be brought to the floor by the leadership otherwise. Once the whip operation is done, constituent phone calls don't mean anything. Second, as we are heading toward a new phase of the fight, this interim period is exactly when we should be having strategy discussions like these. So, Scher is effectively telling us to stop doing something useful but that questions the leadership--hold a strategy discussion for the next stage of the fight-and instead do something not useful but supports the leadership-makign phone calls once the whip operation has already secured the votes. Bleh.)
Green groups are now looking to the Senate for ways to improve the bill, as Kate Sheppard reports at Grist. Given the ongoing success of progressives in drawing a line on the public option, and the likelihood that the Senate would weaken the climate change bill further, I asked Navin Nayak, director of the Global Warming Project at the League of Conservation Voters, if there was a line in the sand beyond which the LCV would not support the legislation. Here was his response:
We are talking about overhauling our energy policy-I'm not sure it's that easy to say there's a bright line. While the public option may be the bright line on health care, on energy it comes down an analysis of whether this bill will get us started in moving to a clean energy economy. It's not going to be the only bill we pass to solve the problem, but as long as it is a solid step forward, groups will continue to support it.
Maybe that is true on the jobs front, but I think we should be able to draw hard lines on things like preserving the EPA's authority to regulate carbon. Anything that actually weakens climate change policy in America should be opposed. Now, a key goal is to make sure that the EPA's authority is preserved in the Senate version of the bill.