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News from the Votemaster

The Politics of Global Warming     Permalink

The House passed the Waxman-Markey bill Friday to take a first step in curbing global warming. The vote was 219 to 212. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), and John Sullivan (R-OK) did not vote. The CA-32 seat has been vacant since Hilda Solis resigned to become Secretary of Labor.

For anyone who thought representatives were in Congress to do the best for their districts and the country, free of petty concerns like politics, this vote may be enlightening. All but eight Republicans voted "nay." This was probably the best they could do. If it becomes law, Obama will get the credit, so why not try to scuttle it and curry favor with voters who don't believe in global warming?

The eight Republicans who voted "aye" are: Mike Castle, Mark Kirk, Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo, Mary Bono Mack, John McHugh, Dave Reichert, and Chris Smith. Castle and Kirk may run for the Senate in very blue states (Delaware and Illinois, respectively) and McHugh is about to join the Obama administration. The others are all likely to face highly competitive races in coastal states where global warming is a big deal (California, New Jersey, and Washington) and a vote against this bill might sink them in 2010. All except Smith represent districts that Obama won in 2008.

What about the Democrats? Forty-four of them voted against it. Three of them, Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), and Pete Stark (D-CA) are liberals who felt it had been watered down beyond repair. Artur Davis is running for governor of a very conservative state (Alabama). But the rest are blue dogs who mostly represent conservative districts. Here is the breakdown.

District Representative PVI   District Representative PVI   District Representative PVI
CA-13 Pete Stark D+22   TX-23 Ciro Rodriguez R+4   SD-AL Stephanie Sandlin R+9
AL-07 Artur Davis D+18   NY-29 Eric Massa R+5   WV-01 Alan Mollohan R+9
OH-10 Dennis Kucinich D+8   NC-07 Mike McIntyre R+5   GA-08 Jim Marshall R+10
IN-01 Pete Visclosky D+8   AZ-05 Harry Mitchell R+5   ND-AL Earl Pomeroy R+10
CA-20 Jim Costa D+5   VA-02 Glenn Nye R+5   AL-05 Parker Griffith R+12
IL-12 Jerry Costello D+3   CO-03 John Salazar R+5   LA-03 Charlie Melancon R+12
OR-04 Peter DeFazio D+2   PA-04 Jason Altmire R+6   OK-02 Dan Boren R+14
GA-12 John Barrow D+1   PA-17 Tim Holden R+6   MS-01 Travis Childers R+14
IL14 Bill Foster R+1   AZ-01 Ann Kirkpatrick R+6   TN-04 Lincoln Davis R+14
NY-24 Mike Arcuri R+2   WV-03 Nick Rahall R+6   UT-02 Jim Matheson R+15
IN-02 Joe Donnelly R+2   TN-08 John Tanner R+6   AL-02 Bobby Bright R+16
NC-08 Larry Kissell R+2   AR-04 Mike Ross R+7   ID-01 Walt Minnick R+18
TX-27 Solomon Ortiz R+2   AR-01 Marion Berry R+8   TX-17 Chet Edwards R+20
OH-06 Charlie Wilson R+2   PA-10 Chris Carney R+8   MS-04 Gene Taylor R+20
PA-03 Kathy Dahlkemper R+3   IN-08 Brad Ellsworth R+8        

So what can we say about this vote? For one thing, Democratic Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), is very good at his job, which is counting votes. Unlike their Senate counterparts, who think that getting Republican votes is as important as the content of the bill in question, House Democrats just want 218 votes and don't care if they are all Democrats. But gauging the vote so accurately is quite an achievement for Clyburn. He apparently estimated that he could safely allow 44 Democrats to vote against the bill in order to avoid being attacked on this in 2010, when it is likely to be a big campaign issue. He probably knew that some Republicans would vote for it (e.g., Castle, Kirk, and McHugh), but it is doubtful that he knew the exact number. He also had a couple of spare votes: while Kucinich is a bit of a loose cannon outside his control, DeFazio and Stark are party regulars who would have switched to "aye" if they had been asked to do so. All in all, Clyburn managed to get the bill through the House while (almost) maximizing the number of number of vulnerable Democrats permitted to vote against it.

Another factor that played a role in the vote is the regional variation in the price of electricity. Much of the electricity generated in the Midwest and South comes from burning coal, a plentiful, cheap, polluting fuel that is one of the main causes of global warming. Due to coal's low price, electricity averages around 6 cents/kwh in the Midwest. On the coasts, oil-fired plants, nuclear reactors, and hydropower provide much of the electricity, which averages 15 cents/kwh.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Waxman-Markey bill is cap-and-trade, which mandates companies to have permits to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Coal-fired utilities will have to either make expensive changes to their equipment to reduce emissions or buy permits to emit. These permits will be bought and sold, like port belly futures, at market prices. As a sweetener to get more votes, initially polluters will get freebie permits, but in the long run they will have to buy them, potentially from other industries that reduced emissions so much that they have excess permits to sell for profit. Wall St. likes this scheme because it creates a new futures market to run.

While representatives from coal-burning and coal-mining states have protested that the bill unfairly targets them, representatives from coastal states have replied that the coal states are causing climate change that primarily hurts them. They see it as only fair that Pennsylvanians pay more for using coal since the consequences of this coal usage are more devastating hurricanes in Louisiana. These effects make the politics of climate change somewhat unpredictable.

Pawlenty Takes a Shot at Sanford     Permalink

As of a week ago, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) were considered rising stars in the Republican Party and possible 2012 presidential candidates. Now that Sanford's star has turned into an exploding supernova, Pawlenty is wasting no time taking advantage of the opportunity. On Sunday he attacked Sanford far more harshly than any other Republican, most of whom haven't found Sanford's affair as worthy of comment as they previously found Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, possibly because the former was international--and thus above politics--whereas the latter was purely domestic. Pawlenty's comments are certainly a sign that he is thinking about running for President in 2012. The next sign may come when the Minnesota Supreme Court rules on the Senate race that it is still considering. If the court orders him to sign Al Franken's election certificate and he does so without too much protest, that means he is interested in running (ignoring his own state's supreme court would provide fodder for his opponents).

Filing Deadline for NY-23 is July 17     Permalink

The nominees for the NY-23 House seat being vacated by Army Secretary-designate Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) will be chosen by the party chairmen of the counties within the district. The Democrats have stated that anyone interested in the job should send them a resume by July 17. The front runner is state senator Darrel Aubertine, but working against him is the danger of losing a state Senate seat in a very divided and contentious New York state Senate. So if you want to represent NY-23 in Congress, get to work on your resume now.

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