Time waits for no one. And, when it comes to America’s environmental agenda, no one can hear the clock tick louder than US President Joe Biden, who has six weeks and counts on getting a stripped-down version of the legislation essential to his ambitious environmental plans. national climate action through Congress before suspending members and later turning their attention to re-election in November.
It won’t be easy and the stakes are high. This is likely Biden’s last chance to gain meaningful traction on the fight against the climate crisis that is engineered exclusively by his administration and party and, in doing so, put America’s leadership back on global climate action – a central objective of his presidency – on the right track.
Early polls show Democrats losing control of one or both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, an outcome that would restore the balance of power in Washington for Biden’s last two years in office.
Having Democrats in a minority in the House of Representatives and/or the Senate would limit the US President’s ability to proactively move the country forward on its 2030 Paris Agreement commitment to reduce carbon emissions. greenhouse gases by 50 to 52% compared to 2005 levels.
“There is still hope that we can cross the finish line, but there is not much time left,” said Mike Williams, principal investigator, at the Center for American Progress, the leading progressive Democratic think tank in Washington, DC.
“In an election year, it’s well known that the August recess is about the dead time for legislation before Congress ends. The odds of returning after the August recess and moving things forward between then and the election are historically low,” he said.
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With Biden’s approval rating lower than any modern-era US president at this point in his term and 70% of Americans believing the country is going “in the wrong direction”, the political momentum clearly favors the Republicans.
The GOP has no incentive to help an unpopular leader struggling with crises on multiple fronts pass a potentially large partisan spending bill it says would fuel another 40-high inflation – currently the number one concern of American voters.
While many, perhaps most, Republicans reject Biden’s claim that climate change is an “existential threat” to US national security, some are open to bipartisan action that addresses its impacts. economic, environmental and health more pronounced.
There is still hope that we can cross the finish line, but there is not much time left
Mike Williams, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress
A case in point was last year’s $1,000,000,000 infrastructure billthe first major U.S. investment in climate resilience and a rare, high-profile political victory for Biden.
Yet it is Biden’s open hostility to the oil and gas industry and his stated policy to “get rid of fossil fuels” that limits cooperation with Republicans who favor a holistic approach to energy.
In their view, it is Biden who is artificially creating a national security risk by pushing the energy transition too quickly with an overly rosy narrative that the United States can replace conventional fuels and thermal resources with relative ease and at low cost. lower cost.
Senate “reconciliation” challenge
Complicating any climate push from Biden, the looming end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30 will close the window for Democrats in the equally-split 100-seat Senate to use a special parliamentary procedure called reconciliation to pass major legislation.
A reconciliation bill accelerating certain budget laws could pass with a 50-vote majority within the party, plus a deciding affirmative vote cast by US Vice President Kamala Harris in her capacity as Senate Speaker. The procedure overrides filibuster rules that might otherwise require a 60-vote supermajority.
Reconciliation bills can deal with spending, revenue, and the federal debt limit, and the Senate can pass one bill per year on each topic. Policy changes that are outside the budget are limited.
In the House of Representatives, where Democrats have a majority of 220 to 209, the procedure also applies, but is of minor importance because there is no supermajority requirement.
Last December, Democrats sought to use reconciliation to move the $1.75 billion Building back better invoice, half the size of Biden’s original climate and social spending proposal. The House had passed his version the previous month on a party vote.
The maneuver fell apart dramatically after Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia and a swing vote, announced its opposition citing reservations about the cost and potential inflationary impacts.
Building back better contained about $550 billion in climate-related funding, including $350 billion in new or extended multi-year clean energy tax credits, about six times more than the US Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009largest national clean energy investment to date.
Biden has spent much of the last year in an unsuccessful effort to reconcile differences within his party after he veered left and adopted the progressives’ free-spending approach to getting the feds to tackle national issues. , including climate.
Biden’s calculation to ditch the political center was partly hubris: he had beaten incumbent President Donald Trump in an election and, he said, saved American democracy and the environment.
Perhaps misinterpreting his tenure, Biden began to imagine himself as perhaps another Franklin Roosevelt, an icon of the Democratic Party — the right leader at the right time to steer the country through a national emergency with transformative domestic policies. that would positively change its course for generations.
After 36 years in the Senate and eight more as vice president, Biden also felt he knew how to use the levers of power and leverage personal connections better than anyone in the nation’s capital and that he would get what he wanted. he wanted Democrats and centrist Republicans. This assumption has proven to be largely inaccurate.
“Going big,” as he called it, seemed to Biden and his advisers at the time to be the best strategy to tackle climate, Covid-19 and other pressing issues — even more so with Democrats. in control of Congress, albeit with slim majorities. Whatever the perceived merits at the time, doing less now makes more sense politically for Biden, policy experts have said.
The analysis of an independent researcher Rhodium Group showed that the adoption of the law on infrastructures and Rebuild Better (as it was written at the time) was essential for the United States to meet the interim 2030 emissions goal.
Rhodium The paths of Paris argued that the measures of the two packages could enable and accelerate the deployment of clean technologies and on their own reduction emissions significantly. Additionally, they could also reduce the costs to consumers and compliance of federal and state actions, and when combined with congressional actions, “put the goal within reach.”
Without help in reducing the costs of congressional actions, federal and state leaders will face greater technical and political hurdles as they pursue the ambitious policies needed for Paris compliance, the analysis found.
Possible small bill?
This year’s climate has taken precedence over the growing challenges that threaten to overwhelm the Biden administration. Soaring food and fuel prices. Supply chain congestion. A nationwide wave of gun violence. Runaway illegal immigration along the southern border. Hundreds of Americans are dying every day from a Covid-19 virus that has already claimed more than a million lives. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The biggest problem we see with climate legislation is that there are a lot of competing priorities,” Aaron Barr, principal consultant at Wood Mackenzie, told a conference last month. “So many things are getting airborne in the room, which makes it difficult to pass legislation.”
Same Build back better, etched in the public mind with the failed signature policy of Biden and the Democrats in Congress, no name exists. The White House has now recast it as Building a better America.
“I think it really depends on whether an agreement around a smaller reconciliation bill is in place in a month or two,” said Sasha Mackler, energy program director at the Bipartisan Policy Center at Washington, DC, a bipartisan-focused think tank. political solutions.
“It needs to be smaller because of inflationary pressures and this desire to focus the bill on a few issues where there is broad support and a need for legislation,” he added, noting that all factions party could embrace about $300 billion in 10-year clean energy-related tax credits.
It remains to be seen whether moderate and progressive Democrats can compromise on the cost, language and scope of any new bills. After giving a grim judgment on the prospects of a climate bill, Manchin is now publicly saying he will support tax credits if half of the tax revenue is used to cut the federal deficit.
In May he said Axios that his first talks with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer on Building a better America were “encouraging to a certain extent”, but added: “There really couldn’t be anything. That’s all I can tell you.
As a candidate, Biden pledged to hold Congress “accountable if it fails in its duty to act on climate.” If the Democrats stumble again in advancing their climate agenda, this ambiguous promise to make the independent legislative branch of government somehow accountable to the executive branch will continue to be politically toxic for the 46e The American President.