Schumer walks back climate bill remarks

SCHUMER WALKS BACK CLIMATE BILL REMARKS…. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) caused a bit of a stir yesterday morning, when he talked to MSNBC about energy policy strategy on the Hill. As Schumer put it, the Senate would move forward on a weaker, scaled-back bill, which wouldn’t even try to combat global warming.

By late in the day, Schumer’s office was backpedaling, insisting that no decisions have been made and the process remains influx.

In a way, it’s good that this happened — I want Senate Dems to realize the kind of pushback they’ll likely receive if they aim low and go with a half-measure.

In light of yesterday’s discussion, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what, exactly, would be in the weaker bill. After all, it’s tempting to think something would be better than nothing, and if Dems scrapped the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act package, they could still get some new industry regulations, make some alternative energy investments, and throw in some increased efficiency measures through legislation favored by Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

Bradford Plumer explained, however, that the point of a comprehensive package is making gains through trade-offs.

The logic behind combining everything into one big bill, as Kerry and Lieberman did, was so that the items that were popular with senators (like oil regulations or financial support for nuclear utilities) were mashed together with the unpopular items (cap-and-trade), and there’d be one big up-or-down vote on the whole enchilada. If energy and climate get separated out, then it’s less likely the latter can survive.

In other words, getting a little this year actually makes it harder to do the heavy-lifting later on. This isn’t comparable to the health care fight — policymakers will be returning to the issue, and it’s easier to build on a foundation — and is arguably the opposite, since cap-and-trade is necessary to establish a climate foundation.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but the political dynamic continues to mystify me. In the wake of the nation’s largest-ever oil spill, and with the need for a major energy policy overhaul painfully obvious, the smart move would be to purse a bolder, more ambitious piece of legislation. Since “only” a majority of both chambers and the president approve of such a course, this still appears unlikely.

There’s still time for lawmakers to seize the opportunity. Schumer’s walkback yesterday is a step in the right direction.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.