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After Financial Reform, Energy Moves Up as Next Major Agenda Item

June 4, 2010 1 comment

With the achievement of financial regulatory reform virtually finished in the Senate, the Senate will now move on to energy as the next big agenda item.  Senate Majority Leader Reid said he wants committee work done on the energy bill before the July 4th recess with floor time for the bill soon after.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) alerted Senate committee chairmen Thursday that he plans to move comprehensive energy legislation in July.

Reid asked the chairmen to recommend legislation to deal with the Gulf oil spill before July 4 so that leaders can include those ideas in the comprehensive energy package.

The BP Gulf Oil Disaster should be seen as a “rock bottom” moment for a nation addicted to oil.  Hopefully, this incident will provide the impetus to pass an energy bill that will move the US to a renewable energy future including a renewable energy supply, a reduction in America’s carbon emmisions, a major push for public transit in all metro areas, and incentives for cleaner cars.  The energy bill will also provide much needed jobs as we transition from a fossil fuel to renewable energy based nation.  Democrats and Republicans should work together to make this future happen.

Christmas in February!!!

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment

First, the stimulus awarded $8 billion to high speed rail projects across the country, and now TIGER grants from the stimulus is awarding $1.5 billion to infrastructure projects across the country like the CREATE freight rail bottleneck fix in Chicago, Moynihan Station Phase 1 funding in NYC, and streetcar projects in places such as New Orleans, Dallas, Tuscon, and Detroit.  Check to see what your community is going to get!

Happy first birthday Stimulus!  May you have many stimulus children.

Ok, back to my indefinite hiatus.

UPDATE: $280 million for public transit projects soon to be announced this year courtesy of a partnership between the DOT, EPA, and HUD.

Party!!!

So What Could be Next? The Climate Bill

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

The prospects of a far reaching climate bill took a hit when moderate to conservative Senate Democrats are pushing to hold off on a climate bill in favor of a jobs bill.

At a meeting about health care last month, moderates pushed to table climate legislation in favor of a jobs bill that would be an easier sell during the 2010 elections, according to Senate Democratic aides.

“I’d just as soon see that set aside until we work through the economy,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “What we don’t want to do is have anything get in the way of working to resolve the problems with the economy.”

A smaller energy bill that would include energy efficiency initiatives could take cap and trade’s place if it is indeed postponed for the time being.  Then again, Sen. Cantwell (D-WA) and Sen. Collins (R-ME) did introduce a “cap and dividend” bill that could serve as a basis for a new bipartisan bill.  The main problem is still over the skittishness of coal state Democrats like Sen. Byrd and Sen. Rockefeller of West Virginia and those Democrats who come from states extremely dependent on fossil fuel power e.g. Sen. Bayh of Indiana.

If cap and trade is postponed this year, either this agenda item is off the table, a smaller energy bill will be discussed in its stead, or elements of the climate bill could be absorbed into the jobs bill.

Teabagger Pot Meet Kettle

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Or should it be those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw teabags?

Anti-science teabagger group AFP held a press conference about denying global warming, but clean energy advocates disrupted the press conference and crashed their event.  Go watch it starting at the 45 second mark:

Midway through his speech though, a group of pro-reform hecklers stood up and started chanting “clean energy makes jobs,” and “Americans for prosperity are Americans for clean energy,” before taking over the stage.

And then the AFP guy got on the WAAAAAMBULAAAANCCEEEEE

He continued: “But I’ll tell you this, it’s why we’re winning this battle. We’re winning this battle because we stand up on the issues and these guys scream and roar.”

“The other side can’t win this debate. So what do they do? They try to attack and scream,” Phillips said.

That’s funny because these are the same tactics espoused in an AFP strategy memo for health care reform town halls back in the summer:

AFP even released a strategy memo for town halls, urging protesters to “watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early,” in order to “be disruptive early and often.” The memo also says that “the goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda.

Just goes to show (and use one more adage): What goes around comes around.  Teabaggers really ought to stick to hybrid hilariously/tragically ironic signs.

Transportation Reauthorization, Elements of Climate Bill May Become Part of New 2010 Jobs Bill

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Add another item on the Senate agenda.  With unemployment at 10%, the White House and the Congressional Democratic Leadership are looking to a jobs bill to help get Americans back to work.  The contents of the jobs bill is still a mystery, but we might be seeing  the inclusion of the transportation reauthorization bill and elements of the climate bill as well as a tax break for each new hire for employers.

The possible addition of the transportation reauthorization would certainly be a boon for jobs although its inclusion is still up in the air.  According to the New York Times, the House Transportation Reauthorization bill – named a reauthorization because every 6 years, Congress guides and funds the trajectory of the nation’s transportation future – contains $337 billion for highways, $100 billion for transit, $13 billion for miscellaneous transportation initiatives, and $50 billion for high speed rail.  Usually, the transportation reauthorization bill focuses on roads, roads, and more roads  Now, the multimodal outlook and bipartisan nature of this transportation reauthorization bill has transit advocates excited, but how to pay for this bill is up for debate.

The transportation reauthorization bill will also push for Complete Streets – a concept that streets should be for all modes of transportation such as walking, biking, and transit and not just a monopoly for the automobile:

The streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities. They ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. But too many of our streets are designed only for speeding cars, or worse, creeping traffic jams.Now, in communities across the country, a movement is growing to complete the streets. States, cities and towns are asking their planners and engineers to build road networks that are safer, more livable, and welcoming to everyone.

Instituting a complete streets policy ensures that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all users in mind – including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

A balanced view of transportation is certainly change we can believe in, and I hope the transportation reauthorization can be part of the jobs bill.  This bill will also create many new jobs because of all the new infrastructure that has to be built, designed, and constructed.

Other possible elements of the jobs bill include a tax break for each new employer hire and elements of the climate bill such as a focus on green jobs.  But is a tax break for each new hire a good idea?  Some say it could help the economy by giving incentives for employers to hire while others think that the crummy state of the overall economy will dampen hiring regardless of any tax credit:

Advocates argue that such incentives would be more effective this time around not only because of design, but also because of timing. In 1977, hiring was already on the upswing, whereas economists expect today’s job market to decline a bit more and then stagnate for months.

“Now is a better time than ’77 was because we’re closer to the bottom of a recession,” said Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who helped create the 1970s plan. “This could help an uptick proceed more rapidly.”

But critics of the idea argue that businesses hire based on actual demand for their products, and a minor subsidy for adding an employee will not make up for the collapse in demand across the broader economy.

“Why would a business hire a new worker?” Bill Rys, tax counsel to the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business industry group, said. “They’re hiring because they need to do work. Unless you have work to do, it’s still an expense.”

Both Democrats and Republicans seem to be warming to this idea, but we’ll see where this idea goes.

On green jobs, Sen. Cardin (D-MD) suggested adding elements of the climate bill into the jobs bill:

Cardin said that the climate change bill could serve as the jobs bill by providing incentives for Americans and businesses to invest in green technologies.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to get better job growth in America,” Cardin said. “Too many people in my state and around the country can’t find jobs.”

A focus on building green energy sources and retrofitting buildings to become energy efficient will help create new, green jobs of the future.  Because of the unemployment rate, the jobs bill could catapult to become the next major debate after health care reform.

SNL Hits Obama for Unfinished Agenda Almost a Year Into Presidency

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment

SNL lampooned President Obama last Saturday for failing to produce results for any of his campaign promises.  Fred Armisen, who plays Pres. Obama, even had a checklist of all the agenda items that the President hasn’t done.  The list included:

  • Closing Guantanamo Bay
  • Out of Iraq
  • Improve Aghanistan
  • Health Care Reform
  • Global Warming
  • Immigration Reform
  • Gays in the Military
  • Limits on Executive Powers
  • Torture Prosecutions

While I do think the criticism is valid because major campaign promises have not been met as of now, Obama has passed the economic stimulus bill as well as the “low hanging fruit”, so to speak, of legislation like the SCHIP expansion and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act while doing his Commander in Chief duties.  Still, Obama hasn’t forgotten his promises, and here’s an update on all the agenda items listed on SNL

  • Closing Guantanamo Bay – Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay once he became President, and he did announce the closing on the first days of his Presidency.  The deadline to close the base is January of next year although Secretary of Defense Gates says they may not make the January deadline.   They’re going to try though.
  • Out of Iraq – To be fair, Obama never promised we’d be out of Iraq in the first months of his Presidency.  President Obama promised we’ll begin withdrawal from Iraq and the withdrawal has indeed begun.  Full withdrawal from Iraq won’t come until the end of 2011.
  • Improve Afghanistan – President Obama ordered more troops into Afghanistan last winter, but now Obama has to decide whether to add 40,000 more troops as General McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, tried to push last week, which brought criticism from Natl. Security Advisor and retired Gen. Jim Jones for McChrystal’s politicking, or to draw down the conflict as some Democrats are wanting him to do.  Withdrawal is not an option yet, but Obama is wrestling with the idea of escalating the conflict even further.
  • Health Care Reform – Awaiting a vote from the Senate Finance Committee and then there’s going to be  a merger towards a unified Senate bill to prepare for a floor debate.  Over at the House, all the relevant committees have passed, but they have not set a date for floor debate yet.  Congress plans to pass health care reform before Thanksgiving break if all goes as planned.
  • Global Warming – The climate bill is expected to be marked up in the EPW committee sometime this month, but there’s no timeline yet for when we’ll see a floor debate although it is expected to be the next major debate after health care reform if financial regulatory reform doesn’t get there first.  Meanwhile, the EPA has proposed regulations over greenhouse gases in power plants, factories, and refineries.  A 2007 Supreme Court ruling said the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases, but the power hasn’t been tested until now.
  • Immigration Reform – A bill is expected to be introduced this year, and action on this issue is expected early in 2010.
  • Gays in the Military – A repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was promised but Obama seems to want to avoid this issue for the time being.
  • Limits on Executive Powers – Kind of vague here.  Does that mean greater transparency?  What does that mean exactly?
  • Torture Prosecutions – Obama never promised to prosecute torture officials.  Obama already signed an executive order banning the use of torture on Day 2 of his Presidency.

Climate Change and Financial Regulatory Reform Legislation Get Tentative Time Frames

October 1, 2009 Leave a comment

Sen. Kerry and Boxer unveiled the climate change bill yesterday that would allow a  cap and trade framework over greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.  Environmental and Public Works (EPW) Chair Barbara Boxer intends to start marking up the bill in mid October, but the bill has a long way to go before it heads to the Senate floor so much so that Sen. Boxer has said the climate change bill may fall behind other priorities such as financial regulatory reform and immigration:

“If I had my druthers, I would move to it just as quickly as we could,” he said. “But we have a number of important issues. We have climate [legislation], we have regulation reform, we have immigration. I’ll work with the White House and my colleagues as to what should move forward. I’m very impressed with the fact that we need to do a climate bill just as quickly as we can.

Climate change is seen as Priority #2 on Capitol Hill but that may be changing.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dodd plans to mark up the Financial Regulatory Reform bill in November with the legislation set to arrive on the Senate floor either December of this year or January of next year.  The current debate in Washington, health care reform, is expected to take up floor time late October or early to mid November in the Senate to allow for debate and a vote before the Thanksgiving break.