Climate Bill Battleground: A Story on Gridlock and Conflict of Interest
Climate change has been a hot topic lately domestically and internationally. The loss of human life and economic cost worldwide from the catastrophic natural disasters predicted by climate scientists due to rise in sea level and temperature increase are deemed too alarming to ignore (Biello, 2009). To this end, the United States set out to negotiate an international carbon emission reduction plan in the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. To set an example for the other nations, the House of Representative passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) in 2009 ( Broder, 2009). Later in 2010, the Senate also attempted to pass a climate bill (KGL bill), drafted by Senator Kerry, Senator Lieberman, and Senator Graham, focusing on cap-and-trade (Lizza, 2010). However, both bills failed to pass in the Senate, thus nullifying any effort to curb carbon emission. The American political process and regulation created an environment in which senators had essentially limited autonomy and were bound to appease their constituents and oil/coal interest groups for chances of re-election. Specifically, the American political process and regulation, coupled with rising partisanship in Congress, created a gridlock situation in 2009, in which the bill lacked the necessary 60 Senate vote to bypass potential filibuster by climate bill opponent. Additional factors such as framing (or mis-framing, in some sense) of the climate bill’s central issue on cost of carbon reduction and lack of American public support due to pressuring issue of economic recovery further repelled the senators from accepting the bills, further exacerbated the situation created by the political procedure.
The Congressional procedure for passing a bill required a 60% support in the Senate to prevent filibustering by opponent of the climate bill (Warshaw, 2013). The 111th United States Congress was composed of 255 Democrats and 179 Republicans in the House of Representative and 57Democrats and 41 Republicans in the Senate, with 2 Independents caucusing with the Democrats (Warshaw, 2013). This meant that the Democrats only required 1Republican support to obtain the required 60 votes. However, conservative Democrats representing states that depended on coal and petroleum (Broader, 2009; Warshaw 2013), saw more downside (angering the constituents) in the KGL bill, thus showed no support. With every Democrat lost, the KGL bill proponents needed more Republican support. However, partisanship in the Senate between Republican and Democrats made such effort particularly difficult. Most of the Republicans had an informal agreement to oppose any attempt of reform by President Obama (Lizza, 2010). Furthermore, the growing power of the Tea Party, created internal pressure for Republicans to remain conservative in action and opinions (Lizza, 2010). As one can see, the 60% Senate vote requirement to bypass filibuster in the American Congressional procedure created an barrier in which politicians were forced into constant debate and compromises, thus not only preventing bills from passing in timely manner, but also leading to bills that lost their effectiveness due to extensive compromises.
Senators were re-elected every 6 years. However, the American political system created a unique situation in which a third of the senators were in the process of re-election every two years, thus many senators were very cautious about their stances on the climate issue. This presented a major weakness in the American political system. The senators must win the party primary in their state before entering the senate race against the opposing party. Thus senators must appeal to their constituents, and any deviation would result denouncement by the constituent, such as when Senator Graham was accused of betraying the country by his constituents during a town hall meeting in Greenhill, South Carolina (Lizza, 2010)....
Bibliography: Biello, David. 2009. “Risks of Global Warming Rising: Is It Too Late to Reverse Course?” http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=risks-of-global-warming-rising
Broder, John M. 2009. “House Passes Bill to Address Threat of Climate Change” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/27/us/politics/27climate.html?_r=1&hp
Tankersley, Jim. 2010. “Senators consider gasoline tax as part of climate bill” http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/14/nation/la-na-gas-tax14-2010apr14
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