Climate Change Bill: An Olympian Feat?

President Obama is off to Copenhagen without any assurances that he’ll get what he wants.

This isn’t a post from the future: Obama is heading to Denmark tonight to lobby the International Olympic Committee to give Chicago the 2016 Summer Games. But there are some similarities between this trip and December’s sortie for climate change talks.

Notably, the President and his advisors are at pains to keep expectations low for both. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week that Obama told other members of the G-20 that “while Copenhagen is a very important meeting we should not view it as a make or break on climate change.”

How does the Boxer – Kerry climate change bill, introduced yesterday, affect that calculus? FT’s Energy Source says the “smart money” is on legislative gridlock until the end of the year, “particularly because of the hard pounding over president Obama’s plans for healthcare reform.” And if Boxer – Kerry doesn’t move, Obama’s Copenhagen talk will be seen mostly as well-intentioned, but empty, rhetoric.

But we at GER think the bill is ready to move – and even see passage before December – for three key reasons. (Edit: OK, maybe we went a bit overboard with the timeline. Still, we’re optimistic.)

First, “the hard pounding” on health care has focused Obama’s detractors on that issue. The opposition to Obama’s “socialist agenda” is going to find it hard to get out of bed for a battle over climate change legislation, which lacks the pop and sizzle of “death panels.”

Second, the Boxer – Kerry Bill, with its 20 percent reduction by 2020 target, is more ambitious than the Waxman-Markey Bill that passed the house, with its 17 percent reduction target. Bloomberg’s analysis is that fewer emissions allowances in Kerry-Boxer mean that it will face a tougher fight. We believe it means that negotiators have a bargaining chip when reluctant legislators ask for concessions on behalf of industry.

Finally, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., wants to know how bill sponsor, Sen.Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is going to ensure that China and India impose binding targets of their own. The simple answer to that is… Copenhagen! If Obama’s negotiators can bring a house bill and a senate measure that’s at least viable to Denmark, they’ll have a lot more leverage and authority to say that the United States is doing its part. That could motivate senators to move this bill.

Moving a climate change bill through the senate will, no doubt, be an Olympian feat. But the wind, as they say, is at Obama’s back.

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