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Senate Primacy and the Meaninglessness of Waxman-Markey

Over at Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard asks a good question: Was the Waxman-Markey energy and climate bill, debated ad nauseum and eventually passed by the House last June, just a waste of time? After all, the tripartisan Senate group now crafting similar legislation has decided to drop cap-and-trade — the central provision of the House measure — from the eventual Senate bill, which will be significantly less aggressive in combating climate change.

The answer, I think, is something approaching “yes,” although probably for broader reasons than Kate implies in her piece. The real issue at hand is the fundamental weakness of the House vis-à-vis the Senate. Last spring, when we were all obsessing over every detail of the climate debate in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I think we didn’t quite appreciate just how subordinate the House had become to the Senate, for the simple reason that we hadn’t yet seen the health care sausage-making play out.

Now it seems clear that if health care is to pass at all, House liberals will be forced to swallow their pride and pass a much less progressive Senate bill verbatim, even if there’s room for some smallish changes via reconciliation down the line. Likewise with climate legislation: For all the weeks and months of work that went into producing — and whipping the votes for — the Waxman-Markey bill, the liberals in the lower chamber will almost certainly have to bite the bullet and pass something resembling whatever eventually comes out of the Senate (if anything).

One has to wonder when the House will lose its desire for vigorous debate over its bills — given that they’re likely to be supplanted by their Senate counterparts — and when we in the media will stop devoting so much ink (or so many pixels) to House debates that are likely to be rendered close to meaningless. I know I, for one, feel a bit silly for having spent so much time scrutinizing every compromise that threatened to undermine the efficacy of the Waxman-Markey bill, now that they all seem just about moot.

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