After Precarious Climate Vote, Grassroots Pressure Needed More Than Ever

Jul 30, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

The House passed the first comprehensive clean energy and climate protection bill on Friday, but exactly in the way I worried about last week -- not on a wave of grassroots momentum, but last-minute cajoling by House leaders and expense of White House political capital leaning on wavering congresspeople.

Right-leaning Dems in swing districts pleaded to the Speaker to allow them vote against without repercussion, and she had to count every head so she could let as many skittish congresspeople off the hook as possible.

In other words, the climate bill was perceived as a politically risky "tough vote", not a momentum-building easy vote.

The polls may say this is a popular bill. But Beltway perception does not trust those numbers will hold up, and won't unless they feel positive affirmation from voters, particularly in swing states. As a result, right-leaning Senate Dems are already making noise about weakening the bill further, which would risk shattering the tenuous coalition between enviros, labor and industry.

The disagreement between Open Left's Chris Bowers and myself reflected the conflicting views on the Left in regards to political tactics for the House endgame. I had argued we needed a big grassroots push last week to improve our chances of strengthening the bill in the Senate. Chris argued the votes were in the bag as of Tuesday, so there was room to criticize the bill in the run-up for the vote.

The frantic scramble for votes on the last day, the high number of defections from right-leaning Dems, and the immediate negative reaction from coal-state Senator Claire McCaskill (who chose to ignore that compromises with coal-state Dems were already struck), supports my fear.

Chris may still disagree. The bill did pass after all, if barely.

But what's past is past. More importantly, after this vote, we should be back on the same general page. We need to amp up the grassroots pressure on the Senate, pressure that was largely missing during the House legislative process.

Though I suspect Chris and I would end up back at opposite ends once we get closer to a Senate vote.

With right-leaning Dems holding the upper-hand right now, it will take a monster grassroots push to counter corporate interest pressure and allow us to strengthen the bill. In all likelihood, we will need increased grassroots engagement simply to hold the line, and avoid such a weakening that would make it impossible for us avoid a greenhouse gas concentration of 450 ppm and a certain climate catastrophe.

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