Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Progress on US Climate Bill

There has been further progress on the US Climate Bill in the past week with the US House of Representatives passing the cap and trade bill with a vote of 219 – 212. The vote, providing a major victory for Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi will now see the bill, which mandates for 17% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80% cuts by 2050 (based on 2005 levels), sent to the US Senate ready for debate after the July recess. Here is faces an uncertain future, with doubts over a number of controversial issues within the text of the bill.

There is no doubt that the bill will be substantially changed in the Senate. The question remains however as to how much this will occur and what effect this will have on any future passage of the legislation. Overall there are a few sticking points that continue to provide problems for legislators in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Costs:

The continued argument being pushed by opponents to the climate bill is that it will substantially increase costs of energy to consumers in a difficult economic time (ignoring that the bill will not come into effect until 2012). The problem here is not the large number of Republicans who are arguing this (as they are largely outnumbered in both houses of Congress), but rather the few more conservative Democrats who are concerned over this issue. A number of these Democrats voted against the bill in the House; the question is whether the Senate leadership will be able to provide enough incentives to win these Democrats over in the Senate, where their support is much more needed.

Free Permits:

The second big sticking point continues to be the handing out of permits for free. The bill mandates that 85% of the permits under the cap and trade system will be given out for free, with the funds raised by the auction of the 15% to be distributed to lower income earners to offset increase costs created by the bill (this is up from the 53% of permits that were going to be given out when I last posted on this bill). This large number of free permits was largely put in place to please the interests of Democratic members of Congress based in energy intensive states (i.e. the ‘rustbelt’ of the US). However, this is causing problems within the Democratic caucus, with many (including many conservative pundits) arguing that this not only doesn’t make economic sense, but also takes away a large amount of money that can be used to offset costs for consumers and/or to be placed into investment in renewable energy. It is almost certain that this clause in the bill will be changed in the Senate, with the big question being how much and whether this will cause serious problems for further passage in the House.

Use of Offsets and Nuclear Power: Other problems related to the bill include the use of offsets and nuclear power as a means for the reduction of emissions. It is now clear that if the Democrats want to see this bill passed they will to some level be forced to embrace nuclear power as a greenhouse free option. This of course is causing major problems within the Democratic caucus, with many opposing any nuclear option within the climate bill. Second, there is a large amount of criticism over the use of offsets within the climate bill as a means to reduce greenhouse emissions, with critics arguing that offsets do not equate genuine reductions.

Where to From Here

The future of the climate bill is very much unknown. It is certain that the bill will be changed in the Senate, with it possibly being strengthened in some ways (through an increase in the percentage of permits being sold) and weakened in others (with possibly more concessions to specific interest groups). However, it is unknown as to whether these changes will gather the support required to pass the Senate and block any attempt at a filibuster. Second to this, it is unknown as to whether the bill will then be able to re-pass the House if changes made in the Senate put off House members.

What I am certain of however is that there will be a bill eventually. With the Environmental Protection Agency recently winning a battle that allows them to determine Greenhouse gasses as ‘dangerous emissions’ and therefore being given the right to regulate these emissions, legislators will soon realise that emissions are going to be regulated whether they like it or not. It is therefore certain that pushes to have legislation on the issue will increase as legislators decide that they would prefer to regulate emissions on their own terms rather than letting the EPA do it for them. The question is therefore, how good can this legislation be and when will it be passed. Most indicators show that it probably will occur this year (with Democratic members of Congress not wanting to embarrass Obama in his first year), but whether this will be a good bill this time is not certain. Only time can really tell as to whether this will be the case, leaving this as an issue both to continue campaigning around and to continue watching.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Climate Change and the Environment, Monitering the Left, Options for a Progressive Future | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where is the Left At? – United States

After discussing the left in Australia I now turn towards the United States and have a look at where I see the left stands in one of the most influential countries in the world. The left is definitely on the rise in the United States and is growing stronger every year. Both in legislative and issue based politics it is clear that the left is gaining strength and will continue to do so in the future.

Legislative

Unlike Australia where the left is split between two parties in the country, the left in the United States almost solely focuses its efforts into the Democratic Party. This is due to the extremely strong two party nature of the American system and although parties such as the Greens and other minor left parties are growing slightly, they still have very little influence beyond local elections. This is unfortunately likely to continue to occur as it is extremely unlikely that we will see a change in the American political system that would provide more opportunities for third parties. Therefore, in legislative matters one can measure the current success of the left through (a) looking at the success of the Democratic Party and (b) looking at how left the Democrats have become.

The Democratic Party: The Democrats are currently probably stronger than they have been since the 1960s. The party currently holds control over the Presidency, the Senate (by 18 seats), the House of Representatives (by 79 seats), the majority of state legislatures and the majority of governorships (28-22). With many problems with Senate and Gubernatorial races and a growing approval rate of the Congress in the United States it seems unlikely that this trend will change in the 2010 elections and it is even possible that the Democrats will increase their legislative majorities.

However, having the Democrats in power across the United States does not necessarily mean that the US is a ‘left wing’ country. Just like the Labor Party in Australia there are large and continuing battles within the Democrats between the right and left wing factions of the party. Although the right factions of the Democrats are nowhere near as right wing as their conservative counterparts in the Republicans, they are still far to the right of what the left wants in the Party. So, going beyond asking the question of how the Democratic Party is doing in the United States, one must look at how the left is doing in the Democratic Party. This is an issue that is a lot harder to investigate (as one must have a better knowledge of the respective members in the party); however there are definitely encouraging signs:

  1. The party has definitely moved far away from some of its extremely conservative roots (based around the South in early and mid 20th Century) and has pretty much shed the majority of the extreme conservatives from its membership.
  2. Some of the lefter members of the party are now reaching much higher positions than in the past. For example, whilst leadership positions used to be reserved for conservatives from the South, the leadership in the House of Representatives now consists of Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank; two who are both considered to be in the left ‘faction’ of the party.
  3. Candidates who are further to the right in the party are now finding it more difficult to get a hold within the parties structure and are being shunned somewhat. One only needs to look at the rise of Kirstin Gillibrand to the New York Senate and the many promises that a primary challenge (which would most likely succeed) after it occurred as evidence of this.

However, this does not necessarily mean that US legislators are just as left as their left counterparts around the world as due to the historic right wing nature of American Politics, the left wing in the United States is still not as left as is seen by left wing parties in other parts of the world.

However, it is clear that the US and the Democrats have taken a left turn in the past 5 or so years and the question then must be, do the American people like and accept this lefter turn from the party? One must assume that with the massive victories of the Democrats, which have been created by these ‘lefter’ candidates, over the past two election cycles and the probably victories in 2010 that the answer to this is a yes. With increasing Democratic Registrations, along with decreasing Republican ones and an increasing number of people identifying themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘extremely liberal’ it is clear that people are becoming more accepting of the left movement. Why and how this has happened is definitely a topic for another post. However, what is certain about this is that it is creating a stronger acceptance of such left shifts as health care reform, gay and women’s rights reform, climate change action etc. Although many of these such reforms have been attempted by Democrats in the past (i.e. Bill Clinton and health care), with the much stronger left wing presence in the house and senate at the moment such reforms are much more likely at the current time.  

Moving Beyond the Legislature

Of course, the left does not just exist within the halls of the legislature and the party room and the different left movements that exist around the country definitely require some mention. Just like the rest of the world, the left pressure movement in the US can be separated into broader umbrella groups and more issue focused groups. On the broader scale one can look at organisations such as MoveOn.org  as probably the strongest and largest growing left wing political pressure group in the country. Regarding information based sites; the numbers of left blog sites in the United States is huge, with site such as The Daily Kos, providing a great example of how these sites can continue to push left thought. It is interesting to note that just like GetUp in Australia, these groups are benefiting greatly through their use of the internet, an issue that continue to plague the right in the United States.

On the issue based politics, one can definitely see major continued growth occurring in the climate, gay rights, women’s, union, immigration and many other left based movements within the United States. Many of these movements are now seeing major victories in the country(for example gay marriage victories in a number of states and the first substantial climate based legislation being introduced into Congress in the past weeks) after what has been some very difficult years for these movements. However, just like the rest of the world there is the continued question of how to bring these movements together to provide a stronger and more united left wing movement. This is not something that I have time to go into on this post however.

I hope this has given a good overview, although very brief, of where the left is positioned in the United States at the moment. I appreciate that I will have left a lot of things out of this post, but will hope to begin filling in these gaps in the future as I continue to discuss the forward movement of the left in the United States.  

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left | , , , | Leave a comment