Climate Change Legislation: On to the Senate

Regardless of how enthusiastic one is about the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill passed by the House of Representatives in June, passing the bill in six months through a body that had never before wrestled with climate action was a major accomplishment.  (For the record, the Pew Center was enthusiastic about the achievement, while seeing some room for improvement in the bill itself.)  This week, Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry introduced their climate bill.  It takes nothing from the House’s accomplishment to recognize that passing a bill through the Senate will be a steeper climb. 

First, there’s the math.  House passage requires a simple majority, which Waxman-Markey just managed, at 219 – 212.  Passage through the Senate will essentially require a supermajority of 60 votes, because of the filibuster.  (If you aren’t familiar with the filibuster, you don’t really need to be.  Just trust me, it takes 60.)

Second, the rules of the House give the Speaker a great deal more control over the chamber’s agenda than the Senate gives its leader.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi very adroitly defined the process by which her chamber hammered out a workable balance of competing objectives.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be herding cats.

We can get climate change legislation through the Senate, but it’s going to be a completely different animal.  I’ll explore the hows and whys in future posts.

Manik Roy is Vice President, Federal Government Outreach