First, Wall Street, then climate

FIRST, WALL STREET, THEN CLIMATE…. The next big fight on Capitol Hill is obviously Senate work on bringing new safeguards to Wall Street. But once that’s finished — if it gets finished — what’s next? President Obama told several business leaders yesterday that an energy/climate bill will soon follow, and he’d like their help in getting it passed.

Obama made the plug during a meeting Friday with his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which includes the heads of General Electric, Caterpillar and Oracle, along with labor leaders and economists.

He told the group that the climate bill — which would cap global warming emissions — is good for business.

Obama said that individual members of Congress may be worried about the short-term implications of voting for the bill and that hearing from businesses would be reassuring.

That’s a reasonable assumption. The most common complaint from detractors — aside, of course, from the notion that all climate science is an elaborate conspiracy intended to destroy capitalism — is that combating global warming will undermine businesses and the economy. The more leaders of the business community say otherwise, the better.

But what can we reasonably expect to happen in this fight? The House passed its climate bill, with cap-and-trade, last summer, 219 to 212. At the time, it garnered the support of eight House Republicans — which, in retrospect, still seems like something of a miracle.

The Senate will likely prove to be even more difficult. Steven Pearlstein gives the bill “a 50-50 chance.”

Many in the environmental community have come around to Kerry’s view that this is the best shot they are going to have anytime soon at passing comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. And parts of the business community have come around to Graham’s view that they can’t afford another decade of uncertainty over regulatory issues, particularly with an activist Democrat in control of the regulatory agencies, just as they cannot afford to alienate an entire generation that has a keen interest in the environment and doesn’t look kindly on their intransigence.

At this point, it’s a bit of a stretch to call this a bipartisan compromise — the bill that Kerry, Graham and independent Joe Lieberman are expected to introduce a week from Monday is likely to have no other Republican as an initial co-sponsor. But its terms have been crafted to appeal to a handful of Republican senators who, either out of personal belief or political necessity, are eager to find themselves on the right side of history.

They include: retiring senators such as George Voinovich of Ohio and Richard Lugar of Indiana, whose Midwestern states would fare even better under the Senate bill than the House-passed version; Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, who will surely like all of the goodies for the nuclear power industry included in the bill; Susan Collins of Maine, whose idea for rebating to consumers money collected by the government through the sale of carbon-emission rights to electric utilities and oil refiners is a central feature of the Senate compromise; and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the newbie senator who so far has lived up to his promise to be an “independent” Republican.

As much as I want this bill to pass, and know that we won’t see an opportunity like this again for quite a while, I’m finding it difficult to be optimistic. For one thing, Republicans will be under enormous pressure from their party to oppose any and all climate-related efforts, and they tend to buckle when the heat is on. For another, there’s no guarantee that Midwestern Dems will stick with their party on this, either.

And complicating matters further, if the Senate manages to pass a bill, the House leadership may struggle to put together another majority to seal the deal.

I guess we’ll see soon enough.