Why Are Democrats Giving Up on Energy Reform?

You'd think it would be the perfect time

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Congressional Democrats are officially dropping plans for a comprehensive energy reform bill. They had originally hoped to pass such a bill, meant to address long-term climate change, some time during 2010. They now say they will instead focus on a more modest energy bill responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, dealing with such issues as regulatory standards. Why give up?

  • Dems Cite Lack of GOP Support, The New York Times' David Herszenhorn reports. "At a news conference, [Senate] majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, blamed Republicans for refusing to cooperate. 'We don’t have a single Republican to work with us,' Mr. Reid said. ... 'We know where we are,' Mr. Reid said. 'We don't have the votes.'"
  • ... But Dem Support Was Thin, Too, Herzenhorn adds. "While Mr. Reid criticized Republicans, it is clear he did not have sufficient support in his own party for a broad energy bill. A number of Democratic lawmakers from manufacturing and coal-producing states were expected to oppose such a bill."
  • Will Dems Let GOP Run Out the Clock?  "The biggest danger, at this point," sighs The New Republic's Brad Plumer, "is that Republicans will run out the clock on energy legislation." However, "[t]here's plenty of time left. Months, in fact. Senators could skip the August recess, take their jobs seriously, and get to work addressing perhaps the biggest issue facing the country (and planet). Republicans could stop senselessly filibustering every little Senate procedure. The clock may be winding down, yes, but that's not because of some abstract celestial force. It's not a logical necessity. It's a conscious choice that individual senators are making."
  • Moderates Giving Up, Politico's Darren Samuelsohn and Coral Davenport write: "For months, many moderates in the caucus have said that trying to move a climate bill that caps carbon was a bridge too far for this Congress, and they have urged dropping the cap in favor of a modest 'energy-only' bill that ramps up renewable energy. At a caucus meeting of Senate Democrats on Tuesday, the prevailing feeling was that even that measure doesn’t stand a chance, say people familiar with the meeting."
  • How To Reproduce Health Care Reform's Success  "A big reason Democrats finally passed health care reform this year, after so many decades of trying," explains The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn, "is that traditional opponents of reform in the health care industry dropped their opposition and started campaigning for it." It was a matter of practicality:
If reform was inevitable, they felt, they were better off shaping the legislation than fighting it. (Better to be at the table than on the menu, as the saying goes.) They succeeded and, thanks to the sweetheart deals the industries got, the Affordable Care Act is in many ways flawed. But it is also law of the land. If the coal industry undergoes a similar transformation, even a partial one, climate change legislation could stand a chance. It will surely include the same wince-inducing compromises. But it will also be law.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.