Sunday, April 25, 2010

Senator Graham, Democratic Priorities, and the Senate Climate Bill

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has worked for months crafting a weak, but not useless, climate bill with Democratic Senator John Kerry and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, has reportedly (see here) pulled his support for the legislation because the Democrats have allegedly elevated immigration reform above climate change on the political agenda. One might question the sincerity of Graham's stated motivation; he has been under political pressure for months for failing to toe the party line of complete and utter obstructionism to the Obama Administration's stated policy goals. Even if he has ulterior motives, I share Graham's concern about the Democratic Party's waning commitment to enact climate legislation.

The Obama Administration wanted climate legislation enacted before 2010 for two main reasons: (1) to improve prospects for a successful Copenhagen summit; and (2), more importantly, to avoid the prospect that climate policy might become a useful issue for Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections. Given those coming elections and scant prospects for a new international treaty this year, the impetus to enact climate legislation has declined. Meanwhile, thanks to the State of Arizona's enactment of a new, draconian immigration enforcement policy earlier this week (see here), the Democrats have seized on immigration reform as an issue that might boost their prospects in the coming elections. I can't speak to their political calculus, but Graham's abandonment of the climate bill is certainly no more political than the Democrats' demotion of climate policy on the immediate political agenda.

Regardless of the political motivations of the various players, the lack of support of climate legisation before the 2010 elections is problematic because prospects for climate legislation after those elections are likely to be much worse.

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