Where is the Climate Agenda?

FOR HOLD This image provide by ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service on June 23, 2020 shows the Land Surface Temperature in Siberia (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service via AP)
This photo taken on Friday, June 19, 2020 and provided by ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service shows the land surface temperature in the Siberia region of Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsiu... This photo taken on Friday, June 19, 2020 and provided by ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service shows the land surface temperature in the Siberia region of Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20 in a prolonged heatwave that has alarmed scientists around the world. (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service via AP) MORE LESS
July 2, 2021 9:36 a.m.

Roll Call reported this morning that the House will wait to pass a 2022 budget resolution – a key part of the reconciliation dance – until they see what the Senate produces or is able to produce. That article included this paragraph …

But even without a committee markup, Sanders needs every Senate Democrat to vote for the budget resolution. On the panel, he has a range of views to accommodate, with progressives like Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse pushing for significant investments in climate programs and centrist Mark Warner who wants to strike a balance on the reconciliation bill that will prevent a bipartisan infrastructure deal he helped negotiate from stalling.

One thing that last line suggests is that Warner is trying to keep the reconciliation bill on the skinny side to keep Republicans on board with the bipartisan mini-bill, which he played a key role in negotiating, a sort of reverse linkage. That’s something else to talk about. But it’s the climate element that caught my attention.

Whitehouse sent up a warning flare about this a few weeks ago – that climate was getting left out in the cold, as it were, in the jousting over the President’s infrastructure agenda. To that end, there’s an element of the evolving story that has caught my attention in recent days and concerned me. The way that two-bill tandem process has evolved it’s been “hard” infrastructure with Republicans and “soft” infrastructure with 50 Democratic votes. So do roads with Republicans and do social spending with just Democrats.

The problem is that climate seems to drop out of the mix in this framework. A huge amount of what we’re calling climate is in fact ‘hard’ infrastructure – surface transportation, the infrastructure for electric cars, rail, energy production. But remember the hard infrastructure bucket is with Republicans. So that’s kind of set. And climate is mostly not there.

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The other bucket is the reconciliation bill. But there have been a lot of signals that that’s going to be the caring economy. Meanwhile Joe Manchin has suggested a cap on that bill of about two trillion dollars. That $2 trillion cap may be as negotiable and Sanders’ $6 trillion reach. But if climate and social spending are both coming out of two or three trillion dollars, a lot is going to have to be dropped.

My point here isn’t that they’re forgetting about climate or that there’s not going to be any climate spending. It’s also true that these broad categories of hard and soft infrastructure and climate spending are fluid and overlapping. My point is this: our focus has been on the tandem approach, checking the bipartisanship box while doing the rest in a reconciliation bill. But there’s this other dynamic, a sort of budgetary musical chairs. There’s no going to be enough money for all the critical priorities and one of the dramas over the summer is going to be just where climate fits in and how much of those dollars go to that critical, existential priority.

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