Thursday, April 29, 2010

Truly Slow Grist--Pt. II

What Now, Me Lovelies?
The likelihood that the Senate will come to a conclusion on the financial reform bill within a reasonable period suggests the possibility that they may actually take up other major legislation in this session (at least before the elections). The time window of opportunity is fairly narrow, though. By mid-summer, the Senate adjourns, for all practical purposes, then definitively, to allow those running for re-election to campaign (a third are potentially up for renewal, but many of those have chosen not to run this year).

So. There are two areas (besides financial reform) for which major legislation is needed most urgently: immigration reform and energy policy.

In the past week or so, as the banking reform impasse has resolved itself, there has been a hard, partisan collision on which of these two would move forward into the legislative gauntlet first. Why the battle? The presumption is that there is only time, energy, and political capital for one to get done. This is a widespread, but generally unspoken belief that should be challenged immediately by Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Obama Administration. We should be able to do both.

Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina abruptly pulled out of what had been bipartisan negotiations to bring an energy policy bill to the Senate floor (the House already has already passed a bill, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill). He claime that Reid had failed to uphold a deal to let this bill go before immigration, and he'd heard that was changing.

It's not that he felt snubbed because his issue was deemed secondary in importance; Graham, historically, has been right in the center of bipartisan efforts to bring immigration reform legislation forward in recent years (efforts that have come to absolutely nothing so far). Rather, to do him justice, he felt that the Senate leadership and the administration were giving up on substantive progress in energy policy in order for Democrats to chase political brownie points (and I apologize for the phrase, no racial connotation intended) going into a very difficult election.

That's easy for Graham to say: he doesn't have to run this year. Immigration reform, though, is a core campaign promise upon which President Obama has to deliver--at least an effort. Further, it has been pushed to the forefront by the ill-advised Arizona bill which requires local authorities to investigate suspected illegal immigrants, demand their papers, arrest those without them, and fine those found to be illegals. If it were to be implemented (and I think it won't, which will keep things from flaming too much out of control), it would be immediately challenged, and should be ultimately defeated, in the courts. Enforcing border controls and visa restrictions are reasonable objectives, but the manner of this bill is an affront to civil liberties of all (and inevitably to Hispanics, again if it is ever truly enforced).

Then On the Other Hand I Would...

I am no expert on energy policy (I choose this name for it, because the Senate bill is apparently no longer cap-and-trade, and "climate change" is both vague and misleading about what this bill is all about), but I think an energy bill which aims at greater energy independence from foreign oil imports through offering money for domestic oil and gas drilling, developing "clean coal" and nuclear, renewables, and imposing caps on greenhouse gases from energy plants is a winner--a bill which should be able to get the votes from both parties to pass.

The first real problem is that the price for a bill will be some kind of clause which revokes the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act of the '70's, authority recently upheld by the courts and preliminarily being put into place by Obama's revived EPA in recent months. This aspect threatens to split Democratic support; without strong Democratic backing the resulting bill will end up even worse than it appears now.

President Obama's position that he wants greenhouse gas legislation rather than relying on the EPA's enforcement of the Clean Air Act is reasonable. Thinking of the future, and the likelihood that a future Republican administration would, Bushite-like, refuse to enforce standards, he needs more positive, current, relevant authorization to take effective action such as he has promised the world.

Another problem with the current proposal is the huge oil spill off Louisiana's coast caused by the explosion and sinking of an offshore, deepwater oil rig. This spill could go on for years, and it could end up having a Three Mile Island-type effect on this avenue of domestic production which has seemed promising.

My expectations (read: fears) are: a "climate change" bill will eventually come to the Senate. It will prove hugely controversial and split the environmentalists, and without their support, it will not pass. An immigration bill will be proposed in committee, but be gutted of all "amnesty"-type provisions, so it will be yet another ineffective enforcement bill which--whether it passes or not--will not satisfy Hispanics. These two outcomes--both of which I hope will be averted somehow--will not bode well for the elections, particularly for House Democrats (who are largely innocent, having already passed superior bills in both issue areas).

The Senate would thus, after the brief glimmer of hope from the healthcare bill passage and this recent period of progress, show once again what a dysfunctional institution it has become. Corporations' buying of elections--recently authorized by the Supreme Court, with remedies totally spured so far--may yet shock us into doing somthing. And then the EPA will begin to enforce the Clean Air Act, something which is going to be hugely controversial and opposed by massive corporate advertising campaigns.

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