An Inconvenient Bill

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Barbara Boxer celebrated the passage of her climate bill out of the Environment and Public Works committee with a festive gathering for environmentalists and her Democratic colleagues on Tuesday, featuring cookies, coffee, and billionaire philanthropist Ted Turner. It was hard to tell that Boxer was only able to pass the bill out of her panel by skipping the markup, and that the legislation has basically been put on ice until sometime in 2010.

“I think it’s important to see how far we’ve come,” said Boxer, motioning to giant cue cards her staff had prepared depicting a timeline of climate legislation developments to date.

But if there’s one thing that this week has made clear, it’s how far the US has to go. At a meeting with Harry Reid and other committee chairs on Monday, Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus indicated he won’t mark up his portion of the climate bill until January. Over the weekend, world leaders agreed to put off a binding global deal until sometime next year.

Boxer, who has long been the Senate’s lead voice on climate, acknowledged the reality: her legislation is “an inconvenient bill.” The health care debate has pushed the climate issue back repeatedly, and now Boxer and others are indicating that financial reform and perhaps even another jobs-focused stimulus may push ahead of climate on the Senate calendar.

And time is running out. “It is incumbent upon Sen. Kerry, working with Sens. Reid and Baucus, to make sure that we walk into next year with a plan—a time line, hard deadlines—or this thing is in danger of not happening,” said David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel at Sierra Club, who was present for Boxer’s celebration.

Right now, the Senate has set no deadlines. Some think the bill would need to come up for a floor debate by March at the latest, while others suggest Memorial Day recess in May is the cut-off point. After that, Congress takes most of August off, and then the midterm elections will kick off in earnest.

Whether negotiators set a goal in Copenhagen to have a final deal sealed by June (the next major meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) or by the Mexico City meeting in December 2010 will also influence how quickly the Senate acts. Putting on an optimistic face, Boxer suggested that the delay on the international front could help the Senate effort. “We believe, a lot of us, that in some ways this may well be what our colleagues are looking for. They want to see what China is going to do, what India is going to do,” she said.

But that’s where this turns into a chicken-and-egg situation. In order to have the credibility to push other countries to make firm commitments, the US must show up at Copenhagen with “concrete numbers” for its planned near-term emissions cuts, says Bookbinder. Many have assumed that US negotiators should at least be able to commit to a figure in the range of the emissions cuts contained in the House and Senate bills (17 and 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, respectively.) Boxer, however, cast doubt on that idea on Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s going to be any consensus on that before Copenhagen,” she said.

In other words, climate change legislation isn’t getting more convenient anytime soon.

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Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

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Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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