The Upper Chamber Challenge The Upper Chamber Challenge
Environment

The Upper Chamber Challenge

by Ben Jervey

May 17, 2009

The House climate debate is on, but the real test is in the Senate.

This week, the final details of most important piece of energy and climate legislation the world has ever seen are being hammered out in its House Committee. I'm going to ask that you look beyond that and consider the Senate.It's not that there's nothing happening in the House. The finer details of Markey-Waxman's bill-known formally as The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009-are just now surfacing. And now it will be fiercely debated, millions of lobbying dollars will be strewn about in the next couple of weeks alone, and the media coverage will shape how this bill is perceived-not just by the voting public, but by those senators down the hall, who will be watching closely.But, ultimately, it will be passed out of committee (the hard part), and then out of the House at large (much easier). The numbers are there, even with the 51 "Blue Dog" Democrats who are outspoken in their concerns about climate legislation's impact on the economy.That's not the case in the upper chamber.In the Senate, it will need 60 votes needed to break a promised Republican filibuster, and those are far from certain. By my count, there are 42 reasonably safe votes for a Senate bill that resembles Markey-Waxman. Beyond that, I see 18 "fence sitters" and another seven that could possibly, with a whole lot of persuasion-or a dangerous degree of watering down of the bill itself-be swung to support it. That makes 25 Senators whose votes will determine the fate of Markey-Waxman.Of the full quarter of the Senate that could swing on this, 18 votes are needed. That's a heavy lift.So who's at play? Rather than dig into each swing Senator, let's look at a representative handful who are each truly pivotal players. (You can also check out the Senate Climate Legislation Metric that I've cobbled together, inspired and originally seeded by energy and climate policy analyst Jesse Jenkins' great "tally of where the Senate stands on climate policy.")The Three B'sBrown (D-OH), Bayh (D-IN), and Bingaman (D-NM) have each earned a lot of ink and airtime for their respective stances on the imminent climate debate. Each is respected and influential in their own right, and firm support from any one of them could swing a bunch of other votes.
Sherrod Brown (D-OH): No stranger to the issue, Brown speaks regularly on the revitalizing potential of clean energy and the threat of climate change. Just last month in Roll Call he wrote: "If we care about the world in which we live and the generations that will follow us, then we must no longer dismiss the lethal risks global warming poses to our planet. We must craft an aggressive strategy to combat global warming, and we must do it now." Yet Brown also worries about the economic hit a price on carbon might bring. "I want cap and trade. I just want to make sure that the ratepayers in my state don't get socked hard. And that the manufacturing doesn't get crippled."Brown is so representative of the Heartland Dems that a climate bill will have to appeal to, Jenkins has proposed a "Sherrod Brown Test" to screen any potential policies.
Evan Bayh (D-IN): In March, Bayh formed the "Moderate Dems Working Group," a 16-senator coalition devoted to shaping fiscally conservative public policy through "common sense solutions." By any calculation, all but one member of this group would have to vote for a climate bill for it to stand any chance of passing. Bayh has consistently ruffled the feathers of the party's left, and is skeptical of cap-and-trade.
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM): As Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Bingaman is all for clean energy implementation and development. But he's already set out to lower the bar for any emissions cap on carbon pollution, ominously saying, "I think it's unlikely we will pass a cap-and-trade bill with one hundred percent auction." And that's before negotiations have even begun.
Olympia Snowe (R-ME): There was debate about whether to roll clean energy and climate mitigation into the same bill, and Snowe feels that Congress has taken the wrong tack. "I think you have to be careful not to make things such mega-bills," she said. "You give people plenty of reasons to vote against this." She would've been a lock for a big clean energy bill, but for this combined version, it'll all come down to the details of how severely carbon will be capped.
Susan Collins (R-ME): Collins was the only Republican endorsed last year by the League of Conservation Voters and the only one to receive a perfect 100 percent score in their annual ratings. She's outspoken about climate change, has supported past legislation like Lieberman-Warner, and doesn't seem put off by a hard cap on carbon.
Arlen Specter (D-PA): When Specter hopped parties late last month, there was plenty of hope that he'd be the magic 60th vote needed to pass climate legislation (or any other Dem policy, for that matter). Not so fast. "I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture," he quickly clarified, ending the knee-jerk celebration of plenty. In reality, his independent stance on climate hasn't changed. He supports climate action-even introduced the Low Carbon Economy Act of 2007-but insists on consumer protection for energy cost increases for Pennsylvanians.Below: My current estimation of swing senators on climate legislation. For the bill to pass, 18 of these 25 would need to vote to end a filibuster. See this chart for more detail.The 18 Fence-sitters Bayh (D-IN)Bingaman (D-NM)Brown (D-OH)Conrad (D-ND)Dorgan (D-ND)Lincoln (D-AR)Levin (D-MI)Johnson (D-SD)McCaskill (D-MO)Nelson (D-NE)Stabenow (D-MI)Pryor (D-AR)Rockefeller (D-WV)Webb (D-VA)Collins (R-ME)Snowe (R-ME)Specter (D-PA)Warner (D-VA)The 7 Longer Shots Landrieu (D-LA)Byrd (D-WV)Martinez (R-FL)Corker (R-TN)Murkowski (R-AK)Gregg (R-NH)McCain (R-AZ)
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