In the first few months of President Obama’s first term, there was talk of passing legislation to cap carbon emissions using budget reconciliation, which would prevent Republicans from using the filibuster and allow passage with a simple majority vote.
But the Senate overwhelmingly approved reconciliation “instructions” that barred the inclusion of “climate change legislation involving a cap and trade system.” At this point, there were 58 Democratic senators. But 67 voted for the provision, including 26 Democrats. Not only did Obama begin his presidency lacking supermajority support for a carbon cap, he lacked a simple majority. Worse, a potential two-thirds majority existed that could override any vetoes on the issue.
And this was when Democrats controlled Congress.
More than six years later, the tables have turned. While Republicans control Congress, they are powerless to stop Obama and his Environmental Protection Agency from capping carbon via government regulation.
A Senate vote this week sought to overturn the new Clean Power Plan regulatory package, but the resolution only mustered 52 senators. While three coal-state Democrats broke with the president, three blue-state Republicans sided with Obama. The eventual veto will be easily sustained.
While Obama has been making the case for clean energy and cutting carbon for years, the Republican Party has proven unable to win in the court of public opinion. There is a broad, bipartisan consensus among voters that government action is necessary to protect the climate, even if it costs money. A Washington Post poll showed that 63 percent, including a majority of Republicans, is “willing to spend $20 per month to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”
And the generation gap is huge: “those under 30 are 22 percentage points more supportive than seniors.” As with gay marriage, the climate issue is killing Republican hopes for winning the next generation.
As a result, Democrats are more willing to stand their ground today than they were six years ago. And Republicans are feeling the ground crumble under their feet.