Even though it is only June, we are rapidly approaching the end of the 2010 legislative session. Congress is scheduled to go on recess during the month of August, and the midterm election season will be in full swing by the time they return in September. As such, don't expect anything significant to pass after the end of July, leaving only 6-7 weeks for all remaining major legislation.
Current major fights include the struggle over a "second stimulus" in two major emergency spending bills (see Open Left coverage our, stimulus tag), the ongoing Wall Street reform conference committee (see Open Left coverage see our Wall Street reform and financial reform tags), the Elena Kagan nomination hearings (scheduled to begin June 28th), and the fight in the Senate over Don't Ask, Don't Tell (see our Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal tag).
Other than all that, energy will be the final major legislative item that Democrats will address while they still have large majorities in both branches of Congress. And, when I write "energy," and I don't mean "energy and climate"--I just mean "energy." Dave Roberts sketches out the state of play:
Last week I wrote about the top five things to watch as d-day for legislation approaches. Now three of them have happened. The Murkowski resolution was voted down, but by a small enough margin that it didn't determine things one way or the other. Reid met with the Senate committee chairs, but there were intractable disagreements and no decisions were made. Lugar introduced his bill, and Lindsey Graham jumped behind it, giving the "energy-only" forces a big push. Obama's still making the right noises about "comprehensive" legislation, but behind the scenes he and Rahm are putting together a back-up energy-only package. And public anger over the spill doesn't seem to be directing itself toward climate pollution.
Long story short, things are looking extremely grim for a cap on carbon.
Josh Nelson echoes Roberts, flagging a notable quote from the man Democrats put in charge of negotiating a climate / energy bill, Joe Lieberman (yes, that's right, Lieberman):
"I don't think the Senate has an appetite for another such epic, polarized legislative war this session," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who met with Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday to strategize on how to enlist support for a compromise climate bill they are writing.
Even six months ago, that didn't sound like someone who is going to make a bold play for a climate bill on top of an energy bill.
Also of note, while Organizing for America has put out a call to action on the energy / climate bill in advance of President Obama's prime time address on the BP oil spill tomorrow, the call to action doesn't specify putting a price on carbon.
So, the last major action of the huge Democratic majorities will be an energy bill, not an energy and climate bill. Good public policy could still come out of such a bill, and there is a wide range in quality of the current ideas being floated around. The range stretches from, on the low end, Jeff Bingaman's ACELA bill and Richard Lugar's new bill to, on the higher end, Jeff Merkley's just-unveiled bill on reducing oil dependency to, as always, a solid proposal from Bernie Sanders.
Unfortunately, as per usual in the Senate, the weaker bills seem to have more currency right now. Still, it is a fight worth engaging, both because there are good ideas out there that deserve a chance, and because this will be the last big fight in a while with such large Democratic majorities.