Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sen. "Moderates" Will Influence Environmental & Energy Legislation

Mar 18: The major announcement that 15 Senators -- 14 "moderate" Democrats and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) -- were forming a coalition to help shape public policy may have a huge impact on pending proposals for environmental, energy and climate change legislation. In a release, Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN) announced the diverse Group of 15 Senators will meet regularly to shape public policy. He said the group’s goal is to work with the Senate leadership and the new administration to craft "common-sense solutions to urgent national problems."

The Group of 15, including some strong supporters of President Obama is lead by: Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper (D-DE) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR); and also includes Mark Udall (D-CO); Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mark Begich (D-AK); Kay Hagan (D-NC); Herb Kohl (D-WI); Mary Landrieu (D-LA); Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Claire McCaskill (D-MO); Ben Nelson (D-NE); Bill Nelson (D-FL); Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); and Mark Warner (D-VA).

With the delicate balance of power in the Senate requiring near unanimous Democratic support, plus a handful Republicans to achieve the "magic" 60 number to avoid a filibuster; the group immediately becomes a force to be reckoned with. Even if the widely discussed "reconciliation" process, requiring only 50 votes is utilized, the new group's support will be essential. The three group leaders are all honorary co-chairs of Third Way, a progressive Democratic policy group, and Senators Bayh and Carper have led the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

While much of the media coverage on the Group of 15 was buried in the mass of coverage of the AIG bonuses issue, most reporting dealt with the groups influence and concerns with the Obama budget proposal. It is important to note that the group has defined its mission to help "shape public policy" in general. Major environmental issues on the table including climate change, cap-and-trade v. carbon tax, the California waiver, renewable energy standards, the future of coal, nuclear waste management, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), and other public lands; Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and more; will obviously be high on the group's agenda.

With the Obama Administration already calling for bipartisan solutions to major issues, ending "earmarks as we know them," and making coal and nuclear power part of the energy mix, the new coalition may provide an interesting twist on finding more "middle of the road" solutions and buffering the opposition from the extreme ends of the Republican and Democratic parties. Early attempts at bipartisan solutions, as demonstrated by the narrow passage of the stimulus bill in the Senate, have proven difficult and will likely get worse with other major issues including controversial energy and environmental issues.

Senator Bayh indicated that the "Moderate Dems Working Group" will meet every other Tuesday before the Democratic Caucus lunch to discuss legislative strategies and ideas. The Moderate Dems held their second meeting Tuesday to focus on the upcoming budget negotiations and the importance of passing a fiscally responsible spending plan in the Senate. At the working group meeting, Senator Bayh acknowledged that such a large group was unlikely to agree on all major issues before the Senate. Yet he said, "the Moderate Dems are joined by a shared commitment to pursue pragmatic, fiscally sustainable policies across a range of issues, such as deficit containment, health care reform, the housing crisis, educational reform, energy policy and climate change."

Bayh said, “We have a wonderful opportunity to break gridlock in Washington and accomplish big things for the American people, but we also have a responsibility to pursue sensible solutions that will work. Our group seeks to work collaboratively with the Obama administration and Senate leadership to make sure legislation is crafted in a practical way that will solve people’s problems. It’s going to take all of us working together in the Senate to get the 60 votes necessary to deliver the change the American people deserve.”

Senator Carper said, “The number of moderate Democrats has grown substantially in the past two Congresses -- and in America. We can play a constructive role in helping our leadership and the Obama administration get things done in this new Congress. Now, more than ever, the Senate needs to put ideology aside, to find common ground on legislation, and to deliver results for the American people.”

Senator Lincoln said, “Arkansans are pragmatic and expect results from their leaders in Congress. I’m proud to play a constructive role as we work with the administration and Senate leadership to help reach consensus on important issues and serve as a voice for fiscal responsibility.”

Senator Bayh's release included a comment from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) saying, “If we are going to deliver the change Americans demanded and move our country forward, it will require the courage to get past our political differences and get to work. Established organizations like Third Way and new ventures like this group offer us a new opportunity to get things done, and I support every effort that puts real solutions above political posturing.”

Access a release from Senator Bayh (
click here). [*All]

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