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Hardball Politics Yields Bipartisanship on Climate Change

In what The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim calls a “big boost for climate change,” Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (D-Ariz.) today endorsed the idea of ”cap-and-trade” system to reduced carbon emissions. When President Obama offered his proposal for a cap and trade system last month, even Republicans who had supported the idea last year responded coolly.

Perhaps it is not coincidence that the two Republicans spoke out after Democrats began floating the idea that Obama would stop negotiating with Senate Republicans and use the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process to pass health and energy reforms with 51 votes in the Senate. Just yesterday, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag pointedly declined to renounce the budget reconciliation strategy, saying “we’re not taking it off the table at this point.”

The two Republicans, Grim notes, “insisted that any effort to sidestep a filibuster by using the budget reconciliation process would erode the bipartisan support.” As I argued here Tuesday, using the budget reconciliation strategy is tempting but probably premature for Obama — and Graham and McCain’s statements show why. By endorsing the concept of cap-and-trade and signaling their willingness to negotiate, the GOP duo has boosted the administration’s chances of getting climate change action with Republican support — and their own chances of shaping legislation.

Grim again:

Graham and McCain both said their support of bipartisan legislation had several conditions, citing the need for investment in so-called “clean coal” as well as nuclear power.

Those are not likely to be deal breakers for Obama. His 2010 budget proposal allocates billions in cap-and-trade revenues to “clean energy technologies” which, despite the objections of environmentalists, can be defined to include coal and nuclear.

There’s no way to prove that the threat of being excluded from cap-and-trade negotiations prompted McCain and Graham to act today. But the fact remains, they didn’t speak up until the threat was made.

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