Coming up ACES

COMING UP ACES…. Hilzoy noted overnight that the House, in a very close vote, approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), 219 to 212. In the end, 44 Democrats broke party ranks and joined the minority in opposition — including a few who had told the leadership otherwise — while eight Republicans voted with the Democratic majority.

The legislation’s flaws notwithstanding, yesterday’s vote was a very big deal. The NYT noted that this is the “first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. The legislation … could lead to profound changes in many sectors of the economy, including electric power generation, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.”

Under the circumstances, a handful of Democratic leaders have definitely earned a pat on the back.

“It has been an incredible six months, to go from a point where no one believed we could pass this legislation to a point now where we can begin to say that we are going to send president Obama to Copenhagen in December as the leader of the of the world on climate change,” said [Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (D)], referring to world climate talks scheduled this winter.

When Markey says “no one believed we could pass this legislation,” that’s not an exaggeration. This was more than just an ambitious long shot; this was widely seen as nearly impossible. When House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) vowed to get this bill out of committee, onto the floor, and over to the Senate before the 4th of July, some literally laughed at him.

And yet, here we are. Looks like Waxman was the right person for the job.

Credit also has to go to Speaker Pelosi and President Obama, both of whom were tested on this, twisting arms on legislation Congress didn’t want to pass, and both passed their tests nicely. The Hill called yesterday’s vote “one of the biggest victories of [Pelosi’s] tenure” as Speaker, which is an entirely fair assessment.

As for the eight Republicans who supported the measure — Reps. Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Mike Castle (Del.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Leonard Lance (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), John McHugh (N.Y.), Dave Reichert (Wash,), and Chris Smith (N.J.) — this should probably be seen as a sign of at least some progress. For one thing, the legislation likely would have failed without them. For another, a few of these GOP lawmakers are planning to run for statewide office next year, suggesting they see a political upside to being on the right side of climate change when seeking a promotion.

And let’s also not forget that House Republicans have been strikingly disciplined and in lock-step this year, giving Democrats exactly zero GOP votes on measures like the budget and the economic stimulus package. The Republican leadership would have loved nothing more than to see a united front against ACES yesterday, but it obviously didn’t happen.

Now, onto the Senate. Does it stand a chance? Stay tuned.