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By Jay Cost

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Climate Bill Faces Long Odds in Senate

On Friday the House narrowly passed the Waxman-Markey climate bill, by a vote of 219 to 212. The conventional wisdom now is that the bill will have a difficult time passing the Senate. This is from the Wall Street Journal:

[I[t isn't clear how much of the sprawling House bill will survive in the Senate, where moderate Democrats and Republicans could form a majority that backs less ambitious action. Among the potential problem areas: the House bill has a provision that would impose tariffs on goods imported from countries that don't match U.S. carbon dioxide restrictions -- a slap at China and India that some business interests fear could provoke a trade war.

Despite the narrow victory, the distribution of the House vote actually suggests that the climate bill will have a tough road ahead in the Senate, as the following analysis will show. To start, let's break down the House vote by state caucuses. The following map does this. If a state's House caucus voted in favor of the bill on Friday (i.e. a majority of House members in the state voted yea), it is shaded green. If its caucus voted against (i.e. a majority voted nay), it is shaded red.

House Climate Vote.gif

If the vote in the House on this bill had been calculated like the vote for President in the case of no majority winner in the Electoral College - where each state gets one vote - the climate bill would not have passed. Twenty-two state caucuses voted in favor of it while twenty-eight voted against. The bill passed in large part because of strong support from California and New York, which accounted for more than 26% of the total votes in favor of the bill.

This is a tipoff that the bill might run afoul of the Connecticut Compromise, for the Senate is not apportioned by population. California and New York only control 4% of the votes in the Senate, as opposed to 19% in the House. On the other hand, extrapolating directly from House caucus votes to Senate votes could induce an inferential fallacy. For instance, simply because Missouri's House caucus voted against Waxman-Markey does not mean Claire McCaskill would vote similarly. All of Missouri's Democratic House members voted in favor of the bill. The caucus overall swung against it because every Republican was opposed, and the state has one more Republican than Democrat in the House.

Where we can get some real analytical purchase is by looking at not only how state caucuses voted, but how partisans within those caucuses voted as well. In particular, what can the forty-four House Democrats who voted against Waxman-Markey tell us about the Senate? The following chart helps us answer this question by organizing Senate Democrats into four categories, depending on the "pressure" they face to vote against the party. Pressure is defined by the House vote, and the categories are developed thusly:

-Senators who face "no pressure" come from states that voted in favor of the bill, and where there were no Democratic defectors.

-Senators who face "slight pressure" either come from states that voted against it but with no Democratic defectors, or states that voted in favor but with at least one Democratic defector.

- Senators who face "moderate pressure" come from states that voted against it, and with at least one Democratic defector.

-Senators who face "significant pressure" come from states that voted against it and where most (or all) Democrats defected.

Senate Democrats Pressure on Climate Bill.jpg

As we can see, many Senate Democrats face "pressure" to vote against the party. Nine face "significant pressure," and another six face "moderate pressure." A lot of these members might ultimately vote yea - but many of them might not. Of the fourteen Democrats under "significant" or "moderate pressure" who were in the last Congress - twelve either voted against cloture on the Lieberman-Warner climate bill, did not vote, or voted in favor but indicated to Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer that they opposed "final passage of the [bill] in its current form." Thus, even with 59 Democrats (or 60 if/when Franken is admitted), passage could be difficult.

Additionally, I'd note the senators with the asterisks next to their names under the "slight" heading. These are Democrats who come from states where all the House members are Republican. So, this chart might understate the pressure they face. Of course, the "slight" category also has a few senators whose pressure is probably overstated. There were a handful of defecting Democrats in California, Illinois, and New York - even though each state's delegation voted heavily for the bill. Accordingly, Boxer, Burris, Durbin, Feinstein, Gillibrand, and Schumer are placed here, even though they probably face little-to-no pressure to vote against the party. There were even Republican yea votes in Illinois and New York.

If this bill comes up for a vote in the Senate - it will be interesting to watch Arlen Specter. Two House Democrats from Western Pennsylvania - Altmire and Dahlkemper - voted against this bill. Historically, Specter has been very weak in that part of the state - and one of his big concerns has to be greater Pittsburgh Democrats. On the other hand, most Philadelphia area Democrats (including his prospective primary opponent, Joe Sestak) voted in favor of the bill. Specter being the "unprincipled hack" that he is, we should expect him to come down on the side that maximizes his likelihood of electoral success - but which side is that?

Now, what about the Republicans?

Senate Republicans Pressure on Climate Bill.jpg

This implies much more party unity on the GOP side, with no Republicans facing "significant" or even "moderate pressure" and just a handful facing "slight pressure." Democrats might be hard-pressed to win any Republican votes, although as usual it will be interesting to see what Collins and Snowe do.

It's important to stress the limitations of this analysis. Senators face different electoral calculations than House members - being up for a vote once every six years rather than once every two, being more high-profile, typically facing better opponents, and so on. Additionally, simply because an aggregation of House members voted one way or another does not mean we should expect a senator from the same state to vote similarly. That's a fallacy of composition. So, we have to be careful not to make too much of the preceding.

Still, it's fair to say that the House vote is a helpful gauge on the pulse of the Senate. And while the bill passed the House, the way the vote was distributed in the lower chamber suggests that it will encounter significant challenges in the Senate.

-Jay Cost