Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:
Lindsey Graham effectively killed the Senate’s looming cap-and-trade package by yanking his support from the bill–and thereby did the Democrats a favor. I’m all in favor of combating global warming, although I think a straight-ahead carbon tax (refundable in the form of reduced payroll taxes) would do the job far more efficiently than cap-and-trade. But if I’m a Democratic strategist, I’m thinking Augustinian thoughts: Lord, make me energy independent, but not just yet.
Why? Because the public has had quite enough, thank you, of government activism this year…and, after Wall Street reform is passed, any further attempts to pass major legislation will add to legitimate conservative arguments that the federal government is attempting to do much to do any of it well. Health care and Wall Street reform were certainly worth doing–but only if caarefully managed and it remains to be seen whether the Obama Administration, which has succeeded in legislating, will have equal or better luck when it comes to actually governing. In any case, public skepticism about the Democratic Party is bound to increase if another humongous piece of legislation, which effectively guarantees higher energy prices, is passed this year.
A more difficult decision looms on immigration. I am a huge, unabashed supporter of immigration reform, including a major expansion of the number of newcomers we allow in each year, especially those with skills. It is a matter both of simple justice and economic wisdom. The more immigrants who arrive, historically, the more the country thrives. They start businesses. They pay taxes. They buy things. Their children work hard in school and go to college. It’s the essential process of this nation’s history. The more mongrelized we come, the stronger we become. (And regular Swampland readers know that I’m also a huge fan of mongrelization, the creation of a new American identity that supercedes and renders irrelevant the notion of race.)
For Democrats, however, an immigration push that comes as the white working class is suffering major job losses and anxieties, is a recipe for disaster. It is said that Harry Reid wants immigration reform to mobilize Nevada Latinos to vote for him in his difficult reelection campaign. It’s the right policy for the wrong reason.
Steve Benen on Klein:
I see the political landscape much differently. For one thing, I’ve seen no evidence to suggest Americans want policymakers to stop having so many successes. This came up a bit last year — many pundits insisted that President Obama was doing “too much, too fast” — but it was never borne out by the polls. I tend to think the electorate will be more impressed by Democratic successes than by relative inaction over the six months preceding the midterm elections.
Put it this way: when was the last time a party was punished by voters for successfully passing too much of its policy agenda, and fulfilling too many of its campaign promises?
For another, to characterize the climate/energy bill as “effectively guaranteeing higher energy prices” isn’t entirely fair — with various incentives and tax credits, most consumers wouldn’t see a price increase, and many would actually see their energy bills drop.
But perhaps most importantly, I think Klein underestimates what the lawmaking process will be like in 2011 and 2012. He wants to see bills on climate and immigration pass — and so do I — but Klein seems to believe policymakers can just pick this up again in the next Congress.
That’s almost certainly not the case. In the Senate, the Democratic majority is poised to shrink quite a bit, making it nearly impossible to overcome Republican filibusters. In the House, the Democratic majority may very well disappear entirely, and a GOP-led House will immediately ignore every policy request made by the administration.
It’s why I think Klein has it backwards — those who want to see progress on climate and immigration have to act quickly, because this is likely the last chance policymakers will have on either effort for quite a while.
Realistically, moving forward on this issue poses a lot of political risks to a lot of Democrats and objectively the odds of success are low. But to simply tell environmental activists that you’re not going to even attempt to address the biggest problem facing the world because you’re too lazy would be unacceptable. Everyone recognizes, however, that without someone to pick up the torch abandoned by John Warner and John McCain of “Republican advocate for climate change bill” that it’s totally hopeless. So if Graham refuses to play, the party leadership is in effect getting a bailout—they can tell activists to go complain to him. This is a terrible outcome for the world, but I think a decent short-term political outcome for the Democratic leadership.
Meanwhile, if it’s really true that Harry Reid essentially pushed Graham in this direction by saying he wants to move an immigration bill first, then that really makes very little sense. Obviously the House of Representatives already passed a climate bill so failing to even try in the Senate will lead a lot of people’s work to go to waste. And long as the Senate odds for a climate bill looked, there’s no particularly reason to think the outlook for immigration reform is any better. Under the circumstances, dropping climate midstream is nuts.
In terms of the calendar, I’m generally inclined to agree with Graham’s larger point — given that the climate bill has already passed the House, and so much of the legwork has already been done for the next round, it makes sense to me for the Senate to finish Wall Street reform, then tackle energy, then immigration. I’m even inclined to agree with Graham that Dems are using political considerations, not policy goals, to prioritize between the competing policies.
But by threatening to kill both of the efforts he’s already invested so much time in, Graham is overreacting on an almost comical scale. Graham can’t call on the president to step up on immigration, and then throw a fit when the president does as he asks.
It’s enough to make me wonder if, perhaps, Lindsey Graham wasn’t really serious about either initiative, and last night’s tantrum is the result of a senator who’s negotiated in bad faith.
Jonathan Chait at TNR:
Hypocrisy? Well, sure. But it seems unfair to accuse him of having “negotiated in bad faith.” Graham has been painstakingly attempting to assemble a political and business coalition for legislation to mitigate climate change. He has also been working on immigration reform, but the Democrats’ weak signals of interest before last week have helped contribute to an atmosphere where nobody expected a bill to advance this year, and thus little headway has been made. There has been no House immigration bill, whereas the House has passed a climate bill already. Graham was set to unveil his bill on Monday when Harry Reid pulled the carpet out from under him by announcing that immigration would come first and climate — which gets harder to do as the elections gets closer — probably never.
As for bad faith, Graham is a Republican Senator from South Carolina. His highest risk of losing his seat, by far, comes from the prospect of a conservative primary challenger. Indeed, I’d say that prospect is far from remote, and Graham is displaying an unusual willingness to risk his political future. He has little incentive to negotiate on these issues except that he believes it’s the right thing to do. So when Democrats put climate change on the backburner to take up immigration, and so so for obviously political reasons, Graham has every right to be angry. He’s risking his political life to address a vital issue, and Harry Reid is looking to save his seat.
David Roberts at Grist:
It’s stupid to have a Dem majority leader from a red state, for the simple reason that his personal political fortunes are frequently going to run counter to the party’s. Reid is facing a perilous reelection battle in Nevada this year. He’s behind by double digits and desperately needs to mobilize his state’s large Hispanic population. So he’s trying to jam immigration through next, despite the fact that there’s no legislative language and nobody thinks it has a chance of passing. As Jon Chait says, Reid’s flail could end up sinking both bills.
I can’t imagine Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) — who’s been working long and hard with Graham and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the legislation — is happy about this. And I can’t believe Obama (or White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel) will stand by and let Reid do it. The administration has reaffirmed multiple times in past weeks that they want a comprehensive climate/energy bill this year. Obama himself called it a “foundational priority.” Is he willing to let it get lost in the shuffle in a futile bid to save Reid’s ass? If he does he’ll either look powerless over his own party or insincere about his own professed values and priorities. This is a test of leadership.
UPDATE: A source close to the administration told me that Graham ran his letter by Reid before he released it; Reid still wouldn’t give him assurances that climate would come first.
Josh Nelson at EnviroKnow:
How exactly is Senator Reid responsible for Senator Graham’s decision to reverse course? That decision was Senator Graham’s alone, regardless of how he frames it or who he tries to pin the blame on. Even after rumors began circulating that immigration was being prioritized over climate, Senator Kerry indicated that he still intended to move forward with his bill. And indeed, if Senators Kerry, Graham and Lieberman had introduced their bill on Monday and managed to cobble together 60 votes, Harry Reid would have brought it to the floor for a vote. I’m quite certain of that. Yes, Senator Reid hurt the cause by making a foolish and politically selfish decision. But Senator Graham was the one who put the nail in the coffin, and he probably would have come up with some other excuse to do so if this hadn’t come along.
Here’s the problem with that line of thinking. Health care reform had been building up steam for years, Democrats had been committed to it for decades, it had extensive interest group buy-in — in short, there was a lot of reason to think it would happen with or without GOP support. Therefore, the Chuck Grassley slow-walk retreat from bipartisanship was an effective way to kill it.
Climate change is altogether different. Many Democrats from resource-producing states oppose it. The sense all along was that it needs extensive Republican support to pass, and may not happen at all. If Graham really wanted to weaken climate legislation, he’d have just opposed it outright from the beginning.
Moreover, the notion that he was trying to “bolster his image as somewhat of a maverick” is crazy. The guy is from South Carolina. They don’t like mavericks. He may well lose his seat because of his maverick image. There are Republican Senators who stand to gain by posturing as moderates, but Graham is emphatically not one of them.
David Dayen at Firedoglake:
Graham, who actually said “Am I going to write every bill in this Congress?” in response to this, thinks that the push for immigration reform is an election-year gambit and that the bill is being rushed with no legislative language. But that’s not entirely true; Graham has been working for months on an immigration bill with Schumer, and what’s more the McCain-Kennedy language from four years ago provides the basic framework for a bill.
The climate bill, on the other hand, has legislative language that oil companies support and Greenpeace opposes. The bill would exempt agriculture and, seemingly, oil producers from the carbon cap, and would pre-empt both the EPA and state and local laws that regulate carbon emissions. It’s a harmful bill and dropping it is no great loss. The EPA can and should step into the breach.
Graham probably isn’t wrong that immigration is being rushed ahead of energy for a variety of reasons, some of them politically related. But let’s face it – the energy bill didn’t exactly have a slam-dunk 80 votes in hand or anything. And the concessions were so ridiculous that even its core supporters would have bolted. As for immigration, everyone knows the basic contours of that debate, and if Republicans want to vote against the Latino community one more time, Democrats don’t have to respect their willingness to hide it. In addition, Graham just last month challenged the President to write the immigration bill and get co-sponsors. Now, when the White House appears to be doing that, he gets all bent out of shape.
I think Graham was dying for a reason to kill these bills where he was the “sensible Republican moderate” on them. This has been his pose for some time, to show to Washington that he’s willing to work across the aisle, but to never actually do it.
In addition, why key issues that even Graham acknowledges are crucial have to take a number to go to the floor of the Senate, with no one allowed to cut the line, is beyond me.
But Graham has a legitimate beef here. Climate change is much likelier to pass than immigration reform. For one thing, it’s already passed the House. For another, Graham, Kerry, Lieberman and others have spent an extraordinary amount of time sounding out key legislators, business groups, advocacy organizations and pretty much everyone else with a loud voice or an important vote. This is going to be a hard bill to move, but they’ve spent months doing the hard work necessary to have a chance. (Whether the bill is a good bill worth moving is, I should say, another story entirely.)
The same cannot be said for immigration reform. The House has not considered legislation on the subject. There have not been endless stakeholder meetings or sessions with key legislators. Indeed, when I talk to people about the two issues, the difference is this: When people talk about climate change, they talk about passing a bill. When they talk about immigration reform, they talk about the electoral usefulness of bringing up the issue. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who is not paid to be optimistic about an immigration bill passing who thinks that an immigration bill will pass.
And this is why Graham is angry: He’s taken a huge risk to be the lone Republican on climate change. Patrick Creighton, a flack for the conservative Institute for Energy Research, says that Graham’s involvement makes him “part of one of the most economically devastating pieces of legislation this country has ever seen, no more, no less.” And now it looks like Democrats are going to leave that hanging there, moving to an immigration reform effort that won’t pass but might split the Republican Party — creating massive problems for pro-reform Republicans like, well, Lindsey Graham.
Moreover, Graham is right on the merits: Moving a climate change bill this year is more important than moving an immigration bill. There’s a point-of-no-return on climate change: If you don’t start getting carbon emissions down in the near future, it’ll be too late. Immigration, conversely, is bad, but it’s not getting dramatically worse or harder to fix with each passing month.
UPDATE: Alex Pareene at Salon
A couple months ago, Harry Reid announced a plan to delay climate legislation in favor of immigration reform. Lindsey Graham protested that this was a nakedly political move. I defended Graham. Now Democrats are moving on climate first and.. . Graham is saying he won’t support his own bill. So while I think I was right to defend Graham’s basic objection, I greatly overestimated his sincerity.