Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Team Obama’s Full-Court Press on Climate

OBAMAAs a drippy day dawns in Washington, Team Obama is suiting up for a full-court press on climate change. Three cabinet secretaries — from Energy, Transportation and Interior departments — the head of the EPA and the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Five — are headed for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the first of three full days of hearings.

As those hearings go forward, President Barack Obama is announcing a $3.4 billion program to build a “smart” electric grid, which would among other things carry solar and wind power, which are free of carbon emissions.

It’s all meant to convince international climate negotiators that Washington is serious about tackling climate change. A global gathering set for Copenhagen in December aims to set up a system to curb climate-warming carbon emissions after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. For months, environmental activists have looked to the Copenhagen meeting as a deadline for action. But now, the deadline is looking a bit blurry.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appeared to acknowledge this when he told business leaders in Seattle on Monday, “We will do our best and try to have a substantive agreement (in Copenhagen) … After Copenhagen we may not expect … to agree on all elements. But we should have a broad agreement.”

Ban’s climate adviser made clear the secretary-general was planning for “post-Copenhagen” talks.

from Environment Forum:

Endangered yellow taxi? US climate bill could turn them green

The sweeping legislation unveiled in the U.S. Senate today aims to curb climate change, arguably one of the biggest tasks ever undertaken on this planet. But it's a bill that runs to more than 800 pages, and hidden in its folds is a provision that could turn a noted symbol of New York City -- the yellow taxicab -- green.

And it wouldn't just be in New York. Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and other major U.S. cities would be able to create taxi fleets made up entirely of hybrid vehicles under the proposed Green Taxis Act of 2009.

Offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who now fills Hillary Clinton's former seat in the Senate, the measure aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 296,000 tons in New York City alone, which its sponsors say would be like taking some 35,000 cars off the road and save drivers $4,500 annually in gas costs.

Kennedy successor joins Senate, takes up health reform battle

Former Democratic Party Chairman Paul Kirk has a few months in his new job to help accomplish what his friend, the late Senator Edward Kennedy, devoted much of his life to: Trying to provide affordable healthcare to all Americans.

Kirk was sworn in on Friday to take the Senate seat held for 47 years by Kennedy, his party’s liberal lion and leading advocate for healthcare reform.

KENNEDY-SEAT/The ascension of Kirk again gives Democrats, provided they stick together, the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate to clear Republican procedural roadblocks.

Senate names room for fallen Kennedy brothers

The Kennedy family is the only one to send three brothers to the U.S. Senate, and the fallen trio now has one of the most historic rooms on Capitol Hill named in their honor.

Without dissent, the Senate approved a resolution on Monday to rename the Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building “The Kennedy Caucus Room.”

Measuring 74 feet by 54 feet, the Russell Room is one of the oldest and largest Senate assembly rooms outside the U.S. Capitol. Featuring three chandeliers, it has hosted hearings on the sinking of the Titanic cruise ship (1912), the Watergate scandal (1973), and the explosive confirmation hearings for then Supreme Court-nominee Clarence Thomas that involved charges of sexual harassment (1991).

Nobody pulling the plug on grandma, key Republican says

USA-COURT/SOTOMAYORHe warned that the U.S. government must not be in a position to “pull the plug on grandma.”But Senator Charles Grassley, a leading Republican who could be key to President Barack Obama’s hopes of overhauling healthcare, acknowledged on Sunday that so-called “death panels” weren’t really a possibility anyway.Grassley, the leading Republican in the Senate Finance Committee, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that his well-publicized comment about pulling the plug was only meant to convey the fears of voters.“It won’t do that. But I wanted to explain why my constituents are concerned about it,” Grassley said.He was quoted saying earlier this month that “You have every right to fear. You shouldn’t have counseling at the end of life, you should have done that 20 years before. Should not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma.”He struggled a bit when asked to explain why he made the comments in the first place: “I said that because — two reasons. Number one, I was responding to a question at my town meetings. I let my constituents set the agenda. A person that asked me that question was reading from language that they got off of the Internet. It scared my constituents…”Obama expressed outrage on Saturday about persistent rumors about the government-run “death panels” — an issue most notably raised by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee last year.“As every credible person who has looked into it has said, there are no so-called ‘death panels’ — an offensive notion to me and to the American people,” Obama said. “These are phony claims meant to divide us.”The issue stems from a provision in a House of Representatives bill that would have provided government funding for optional counseling on end-of-life care issues such as hospice.Obama’s healthcare plan has been hit from both sides, with liberal members of his own party pushing for major changes while Republicans and conservative Democrats fret about cost and government involvement. The debate likely will intensify next month when Congress returns from its summer recess.Do you think Grassley’s acknowledgement will help end the debate over death panels?

Looks like Obama immigration reform will have to wait

MEXICO-DRUGS/For those holding out hope that healthcare reform and climate change legislation would not squeeze out efforts to overhaul the broken U.S. immigration system this year, think again.

At the “Three Amigos Summit” in Guadalajara, Mexico, President Barack Obama all but ruled out legislation passing this year, particularly since his top initiative — healthcare — has been put off until September and there still remains work to be done on climate change. And, oh yes, fixing the U.S. financial regulatory system too.

“That’s a pretty big stack of bills,” Obama told reporters alongside Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “I would anticipate that before the year is out, we will have draft (immigration) legislation, along with sponsors potentially in the House and the Senate who are ready to move this forward.”

McCain opposes former rival’s first Supreme Court nominee

OBAMA/Nine months after losing the U.S. presidential election to Democrat Barack Obama, Republican John McCain is still taking center stage to voice disagreement with his former U.S. Senate colleague.

On Monday, McCain announced in a Senate speech that he would vote against Obama’s first U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, a federal judge for the past 17 years.

“She is an immensely qualified candidate,” McCain conceded.

But he added: “I do not believe that she shares my belief in judicial restraint.”

Obama trying hard to get healthcare back on track

President Barack Obama is pushing hard to get health care reform back on track after it veered a bit off course while he was in Europe last week.

He has spent the better part of the week pushing the issue. First he went after “nay-sayers and cynics,” warning them “don’t bet against us.”

“I just want to put everybody on notice, because there was a lot of chatter during the week that I was gone: We are going to get this done,” he said. “Inaction is not an option.”
Then he stood with nursing leaders in the Rose Garden and tried to buck people up.

The First Draft: Trying again on healthcare

USA-HEALTHCARE/OBAMASenate Democrats will take up healthcare again today after a tough week.

Republican opposition is building after independent auditors estimated their initial efforts could cost more and cover fewer than initially hoped, reducing the chance of winning the bipartisan support that could ensure that any reforms will last.

Republican Sen. John McCain gave Reuters a grim prognosis last Friday and said the next few days will determine whether the effort succeeds or fails.

But Democratic Sen. Max Baucus still thinks he can get a bipartisan bill to President Obama by the end of the year.

Poll: U.S. Senate leader has problems in home state

Sure it’s a long way before the November 2010 U.S. congressional election — and a lot can happen between now and then. But at this point, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada seems to be in jeopardy of becoming the second Senate leader in a half century to be voted out of office.

A poll released on Tuesday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal found that half of Nevada voters had an unfavorable view of Reid, while 38 percent had a favorable view, the newspaper said.


Reid won reelection in 2004 to a fourth term with 61 percent of the vote. But his approval ratings have since slipped. He became Senate Democratic leader in 2005, and majority leader in 2007.