Tales from the Trail

Washington politicians finally meet someone who can fast-talk them

Democrats in the House Energy and Commerce Committee had a secret weapon — a speed-reader — who they were prepared to pull out in case Republicans forced the public reading of a nearly 1,000-page climate change bill and lengthy amendments that have been debated all week.

US-FINANCIAL/The procedural maneuver to delay progress on the bill had been threatened by Republicans, who oppose the “cap and trade” program Democrats constructed to gradually reduce industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.

In the end, Republicans didn’t resort to the delay.

But not wanting to waste the talents of the speed-reader Chairman Henry Waxman hired, the committee gave Douglas Wilder his moment in the sun by asking him to read out loud hundreds of pages contained in a Republican counter-proposal that everyone knew was doomed.

Sporting an orange-colored shirt, patterned tie and brushed-back hair, Wilder took off, sounding almost like an auctioneer.

The words flew by, sometimes almost  unintelligible and too fast for even the most competent note-takers in the hearing room filled with lawmakers, lobbyists and journalists.

The First Draft: Obama and Netanyahu

OBAMA/ABORTIONBack from South Bend, Indiana, President Obama meets today at 10:30 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The new/old Israeli leader wants to talk about Iran’s nuclear ambitions — his government has not ruled out military action, while Obama wants to emphasize diplomacy.

Netanyahu hopes the emphasis on Iran will mean that Obama will have less of an opportunity to press him on other issues, like Palestinian statehood and expanded Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank.

The First Draft: Presidential e-mail

SUNDANCE/If you just can’t get enough of the goings and doings of President Barack Obama, can’t wait for the blog posts, Twitter tweets, Washington whispers or even the newspaper and magazine stories about the U.S. chief executive, now there’s help. You can sign up for e-mails from the president. He sent his first one Wednesday. It’s hardly a window on the inner workings of the White House but it is a new way to communicate.

“My staff and I plan to use these messages as a way to directly communicate about important issues and opportunities, and today I have some encouraging updates about health care reform,” wrote in his first message, also posted here. “The Vice President and I just met with leaders from the House of Representatives and received their commitment to pass a comprehensive health care reform bill by July 31.”

He ended the note with,

“Thank you,
“Barack Obama”

and then added a postscript:

“P.S. If you’d like to get more in-depth information about health reform and how you can participate, be sure to visit http://www.HealthReform.gov”

First Draft: CDC’s Besser does “The Full Ginsburg”

FLU/USA-CASESDr. Richard Besser, acting chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been everywhere in the media over the last several days, talking about swine flu. His calm demeanor and practical advice — cover your cough, wash your hands — showed up on every major television network this morning. It seemed like he was live, simultaneously, on several of them.

In some Washington circles, this kind of media blitz is known as “The Full Ginsburg.”

For those with long memories, when sex was the biggest scandal in the U.S. capital, William H. Ginsburg had 15 minutes of fame as Monica Lewinsky’s attorney. He represented the former White House intern in 1998 when she was called to testify about her relationship with then-President Bill Clinton. The case ultimately led to Clinton’s impeachment.

First Draft: Al Gore heads for the Hill

GORE/Al Gore — who sometimes jokes that he “used to be the next president of the United States” — heads for Capitol Hill to testify about the fight against climate change. The former vice president and star of the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” is slated to go before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he’ll discuss the latest legislation to curb the greenhouse gases that spur global warming.

Gore shares the spotlight with former Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican who pushed a bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, his last year in Congress.

It’s been an environmentally-friendly week in Washington, with Earth Day on Wednesday prompting almost every U.S. agency to go green, starting with the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson headed for the Hill to urge passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the climate bill working its way through the House of Representatives. A similar bill failed last year, but that was then. Supporters hope that with a new administration which has been clear on its commitment to curb climate warming emissions, this kind of law has a better chance.

What is the cost of staving off climate change?

Republicans in the U.S. Congress say they know how much it is going to cost to save the world from the predicted ravages of climate change. But others say their math is way off.
 
“It would cost every family as much as $3,100 a year in additional energy costs and will drive millions of good-paying American jobs overseas,” warned House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner in response to House Democrats unveiling their climate-change bill on Tuesday.
 
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell offered the same figure. “According to some estimates, this tax could cost every American household up to $3,100 a year just for doing the same things people have always done, like turning on the lights and doing laundry.”
 
There’s a problem, though. 
 USA/
The Republicans cite a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study as the basis for their cost estimate. But a lead author of that study complained in a letter to Boehner on Wednesday that the calculation is way off.
 
John Reilly, an economist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said the average annual cost to U.S. families for controlling emissions of carbon and other harmful greenhouse gases is actually $340.
 
In a telephone interview with Reuters, Reilly said updates to his 2007 study that take into account some higher costs could nudge the figure up to around $440 per household per year.
 
Republicans say they simply took a $366 billion revenue estimate from a climate change bill that sputtered in Congress last year and divided by the number of U.S. households to come up with $3,100. The thinking is that the revenues would be collected in pollution permits to industries, a cost that likely could be passed on to consumers.
 
“Taking that number and saying that is the cost is just wrong,” Reilly said, adding that many other calculations, including government rebates to consumers, have to be factored in.
 
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said there are no assurances yet that consumers would get rebates, which the MIT study assumed, and thus the $3,100 figure is accurate and possibly even higher.
 
“If they (Democrats) change their bill to give money back to consumers, the numbers on cost would change (downward),” Stewart said.
 
Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for Representative Edward Markey, one of Congress’ leading advocates of climate control legislation, saw other possibilities.
    
If a range of energy initiatives in coming legislation is factored in — electric vehicles, improved transmission and other alternative energy steps — he said that would “significantly cut down the costs and some say would save people money on energy bills.”

For more Reuters political news, click here

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Demonstrators for clean energy hold a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 2) 

The First Draft: jobs jobs jobs

Guess what? There’s more bad news about the economy today.

Numbers out today show the unemployment rate has risen to its highest rate in 25 years as companies buckled under the strain of a recession that is showing no signs of ending. ECONOMY-JOBFAIR/

Want to hear more? The head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Keith Hall, testifies to Congress about the employment picture at 9:30.

In the Obama administration’s first public overture to Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has invited Iran to a conference on Afghanistan planned for this month. Traveling in Brussels, Clinton also said the problems of climate change and the economy should be tackled simultaneously.

from Environment Forum:

Will Obama see the forest for the trees?

A Chinese campaigner has urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to prove his green credentials, asking him to offset the emissions generated by his inauguration by funding a forest in China.

A carbon fund named "Obama, future" could invest in increased forest coverage in another country and Obama himself could plant a tree there, Lin Hui said in an open letter, published on www.ditan360.com. Lin hopes that country will be China.

Lin's appeal is based on estimates by conservative U.S. think-tank, the Institute for Liberty, that people travelling to attend Tuesday's inauguration would generate 220,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.