Photo via the Huffington Post
Health Care Reform Has Passed
I'm a little late posting today, as I've been scouring the ol' intertubes for every last word written about last night's passage of health care reform--which, regardless of your opinions of that bill, will stand as a monumental event in America's political history. Whether you believe that the measures adopted to do so are the correct ones, health care coverage has just been extended to tens of millions of Americans--and I think the moral certitude backing that achievement is reason enough to applaud the bill's passage. But enough of that: I'm not here to talk about health care reform, of course. I'm here to talk about what that momentous legislation's passage means for energy reform. And who didn't see that coming? As Dave Roberts points out at Grist, anyone who follows environmental politics should be expecting an avalanche of 'What Does Health Care Reform Mean for Climate/Clean Energy/Green Jobs?" type posts to tumble down their RSS feeds. But a little sense of inevitability never stopped me, so here goes.
The 'Uphill' Battle
The conventional wisdom is, of course, that the massive effort it took to pass health care reform leaves another massive effort-requiring domestic policy reform in the lurch. This conventional wisdom includes the oft-repeated sentiments that the Senate has been too overwhelmed, is too unwilling to risk participating in any more controversial policy-making, and is just too 'exhausted' (that word in particular pops up quite a bit) to undertake clean energy reform at this juncture.
While I'm often prone to disregard conventional wisdom on energy a lot of the time, it's hard to realistically look at the lay of the legislative land and not be discouraged. After all, energy reform is going to require a hard 60 votes in the Senate--votes that as of now, will be tough to round up. Add to that the fact that the next on the policy agenda is financial reform, which is already underway, and has more populist appeal (read: is less controversial) than climate.
Finally, the key player in the Senate energy reform effort is probably Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is as of now the lone senator working with Dems to craft a passable bill. And he's been publicly complaining about how pissed off he is about health care reform's passage. Which, as Kate Sheppard points, out is something he's practically required to do as a card carrying member of the GOP. While he's unlikely to abandon climate policy altogether--seeing as how he's already vested much of his personal and political stock in it--he probably won't want his constituents seeing him hanging out with John Kerry just right now.
The Case for Clean Energy Reform
All that said, seeing energy reform once again taken up is perfectly possible. The Dems' legislative victory could embolden the party and create momentum. There's the fact that Obama started out the year coming on pretty strong in pushing energy reform, and added nuclear loan guarantees to the budget to bolster its chances of its passage. And Graham seems nearly certain to at some point take up his cause in working towards bipartisan climate legislation again--which I do believe is motivated by honest ideals and a sincere dedication to clean energy reform. Finally, there's still a huge swath of support from the majority of Americans who back such reform. All of these factors combined, and the case begins to look much better for a climate bill--especially since the poll numbers for health care showed most Americans found the legislation unfavorable. Energy reform doesn't face this hurdle.
But much of this still rests on Graham--if he continues to rally for a bipartisan bill, and can persuade a handful of his peers to come to the table as well, when the dust finally settles from health care reform, there may yet be an opening for a bill that begins America's transition to a clean energy economy.