At this point, it's hard to overstate just how dysfunctional and inane the U.S. Senate is. Earlier today, Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal was shot down by a 57-40 vote. In other words, 57 senators were in favor of repeal, 40 were opposed—and the thing still failed. Okay, fine, plenty of critics have decried the fact that the filibuster gets overused and you need 60 votes to pass even the smallest piece of legislation in the Senate. Set that aside.
Here's a quick sketch of how environmental policy will get made for the next two years. Congress won't pass any new laws. The EPA will try to use the authority it already has to mop up pollution from coal plants, factories, and vehicles (and the agency has a fair bit of existing authority to do so). Industry groups, Republicans, and more than a few Democrats will moan about the costs. And the Obama administration will then have to decide just how much confrontation it can really stomach.
Dick Morris has never been afraid to test the limits of opportunism. Back in 1994, while working as a political consultant for Republican clients like Trent Lott, he was caught secretly counseling their chief nemesis, President Bill Clinton.
Most Internet-policy issues are mind-numbingly complex and, let's face it, a little too dull for the broader public to sift through. So, if you're a small company caught up in an arcane battle with a massive service provider like Comcast, it can be hard to get anyone aside from specialized trade publications to care. Unless, of course, you say those two magic words: net neutrality. Just claim that the future of the open Internet is at stake, and your tiff is guaranteed to splash across headlines everywhere. Want an example?
Back in 2009, after Barack Obama's big electoral victory, a lot of conservatives thought the Republican Party was in total shambles. So when it came time to pick a new party chairman that January, the candidates promising revolution all got a sympathetic ear. "I represent a threat to the system," Michael Steele declared after one forum for Republican National Committee chair candidates.
In January 1973, William Ruckelhaus, the administrator of the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency, traveled to Los Angeles to break the bad news to residents: They were going to have to drive less. Automobile smog was choking the city, in stark violation of the Clean Air Act, and the EPA had hatched a plan to clear the air, by promoting mass transit, parking fees, high-occupancy lanes, and gasoline rationing. The reaction from car-loving Californians was a combination of shock and outright rage. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," fumed one resident.
When, exactly, did light bulbs become a conservative litmus test? Back in 2007, if you'll recall, George W. Bush signed an energy bill that tightened efficiency standards for lighting. It wasn't a big deal at the time. The bill just meant that manufacturers would slowly have to phase out their old, power-hogging incandescent bulbs in favor of something sleeker, like compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, starting in 2012. (This wasn't technically a ban on incandescents—more on that in a sec.) A few disgruntled libertarians complained, but life went on. Alas, that was then.
So how's that Republican war on pork holding up? All week, conservatives like Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn have been pushing their fellow senators to put a two-year moratorium on earmarks. They've managed to persuade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and even Mississippi's prime porker, Thad Cochran, has just grudgingly acceded ("I remain unconvinced that fiscal prudence is effectively advanced by ceding to the Obama administration our constitutional authority to determine federal expenditures, but an earmark moratorium is the will of the Republican Conference.").
Dover, Delaware—"You have two stories ready to go, right?" It's about 7:30 p.m. at Christine O'Donnell's election-night party in Dover, and all the local reporters are crammed in the back, idly refreshing Politico and Twitter while waiting for the returns to come in. There's a man with a mustache and a baby blue O'Donnell t-shirt looming over us, grinning. "Cause you don't know which way it's going to go!," he explains. Of course, the journalists present all assume O'Donnell is going to lose her Senate race, and badly. Most of us are just there to watch the carnage.
This is the third in an occasional series examining how Republican control of Congress might affect policy debates in the next two years. (Part 1, Part 2) First, a question: Have the last two years, with Obama in the White House and Democrats running Congress, really been that great for environmental policy? It depends how you look at it. There was that debacle in the Gulf, which obviously wasn't handled well. Then the Senate failed to pass a climate bill, and the Copenhagen talks dragged along without much resolution.