We can’t wait that long

WE CAN’T WAIT THAT LONG…. The Senate Democratic leadership intends to bring an energy/climate bill to the floor a week from Monday. The details of the bill’s contents are still in flux, and it’s far from clear that the majority will be able to assemble the support to overcome yet another Republican filibuster.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that the problem is not limited entirely to Republicans.

President Barack Obama’s next big legislative priority — a comprehensive energy and climate bill — sits in limbo in no small part because of wavering senators from his own party.

About a dozen Democrats — from the Great Plains, Midwest, Appalachia and the South — continue to resist the idea of putting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

And despite months of legwork by the president’s Senate allies, few of these so-called Brown Dogs are biting. […]

“I think it’s still a work in progress,” said Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who worries that a cap would be a loser for Democrats in November. “You know, it took 50 years on health care.”

That’s not exactly encouraging. As Jon Chait explained, “Actually, the time span between Harry Truman proposing universal health care and President Obama signing the Affordable care Act was more like 60 years. But that’s okay! I’m sure nothing irreversible will happen to the atmosphere between now and 2070.”

Policymakers talked about health care reform for a century, as the system grew increasingly dysfunctional. When it comes to the climate, we already have a crisis. We’re putting 90 million tons of carbon emissions into the air every day, and if McCaskill is content to let that continue for another five decades, she’s making a terrible mistake.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) added that she’d like to see Congress take this up “in the early part of next year.” Perhaps Feinstein hasn’t heard, but November is likely to be pretty rough for Democrats, and the party that perceives climate science itself as a Marxist plot will probably make significant gains, if not take control over part (or all) of Congress. If Feinstein thinks the politics of an ambitious energy bill are difficult now, wait until the party that took BP’s side in the oil spill crisis has more power over the policy debate.

It’s why the fierce urgency of now is largely unavoidable. Those hoping to make a positive difference don’t have five decades, they have five weeks. If the Senate comes up short, the climate crisis will get worse, the solution will get tougher to achieve, and the politics will get worse. If this isn’t obvious to policymakers, they’re not paying close enough attention.

As for the state of the debate, there have been some fairly constructive talks this week between utility companies and environmentalists on a plan to reduce carbon emissions that, they hope, could generate broad support. (The idea is, utility companies would be able to make the case to conservatives, while groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council can get the left on board.)

Participants signaled cautious optimism, and are scheduled to reconvene on Monday.