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Boyce: Cap-and-Trade vs Cap and Dividend contend in two pieces of legislation in Washington

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. And joining us again now is James Boyce. He’s a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s associated with the PERI institute, the Political Economy Research Institute. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: Okay. So let’s talk about the politics of all of this in Washington. You’ve got two bills. Which Bill seems to have support? The bill you seem to favor is the Cantwell-Collins bill. And tell us, does the Cantwell-Collins bill have some traction? ‘Cause the buzz around town, it may be the better bill, but not enough people are going to support it.

BOYCE: Well, I think it’s early days to tell this, because the Cantwell-Collins bill was just unveiled in December, and, of course, then we’ve had the holidays and other things going on; health care has continued to dominate a lot of the coverage and the attention. So when climate policy emerges from the shadows, it’ll be, I think, very interesting, Paul, to see, you know, what the choices of the legislators turn out to be in the choice between these two options that are on the table—the cap-and-trade provisions of Waxman-Markey that passed the House, or the cap-and-dividend bill of Cantwell and Collins.

JAY: Coal clearly seems to prefer the Markey bill.

BOYCE: I think that’s right. You know, on the side of industry, the attitudes towards this choice between Waxman-Markey and Cantwell-Collins depends on how well that industry did in the sausage-making process that gave us the cap-and-trade provisions of Waxman-Markey—the bargaining, the lobbying, and the giveaways of allowance value, the giveaways of permits. And, in general, coal and electric utilities that rely heavily on coal came out pretty well, so my guess is that they will tend to support Waxman-Markey. Oil—.

JAY: Which crosses party lines, because you have the coal industries allied with Democrats and Republicans.

BOYCE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s right; they are. They’ve been much better, I think, at playing both sides of the aisle than the oil companies, who, if you look at their campaign contributions, are very lopsided in favor of the Republicans, right? So the oil companies didn’t do too well in that process, and they’re not very happy about Waxman-Markey, and in the end, even if they really don’t want any climate legislation at all, I think many of them will conclude that if there is going to be climate legislation, they’d rather have climate legislation that creates a level playing field, rather than one that’s tilted in favor of coal and against oil. Right? So that’s a piece of the politics here. Another really important piece of the politics, I think, is that from the standpoint of the Republicans, the people who are worried about big government, right, worried about further expansion of government spending—.

JAY: So they say.

BOYCE: So they claim. Of course, they spent more than ever under Bush, right?

JAY: [inaudible] question is whose big government.

BOYCE: Yeah, I take your point there, Paul. But for those folks, there is an attraction, at least for some of them, in the concept of cap-and-dividend giving most of the money back to the public, right, back into the pockets of the American people, their constituents back in their home states and districts, as opposed to a bill that fails to return much, if any, money into the pockets of ordinary working American families, and instead disappears into either government spending or into giveaways that enhance corporate profits. Right? So there’s a certain appeal, it seems to me, that extends on both sides of the aisle to people who are worried about the middle class in particular. They’re worried about the American working family and what the impact of climate legislation’s going to be on those families. And for such people who—that’s a bipartisan concern. There are Republicans and Democrats [inaudible]

JAY: So the Massachusetts Republican victory may actually throw some weight behind the other bill [inaudible]

BOYCE: It remains to be seen. It’s a possibility, at least, because what it means is that you no longer have that filibuster-proof majority that would allow the Democrats to just take a big, you know, business-as-usual, dividing-up-the-spoils kind of hunk of legislative sausage and, you know, force that through. You’re going to get some bipartisan support to get a bill through. And in a way—this is my view here—in a way, I think that’s a good thing. Why? Because it’s not just a matter of passing a climate bill in 2010; it’s a matter of passing a climate bill that’s going to remain in place, that’s going to put an architecture in place that the American people and the American political system is going to sustain for the 40 years it takes to achieve this, right?

JAY: If anything is passable. I mean, the other side of the equation right now is the Republicans seem quite committed not to let Congress/Senate pass a single thing, because it looks like a victory for the administration.

BOYCE: Well, that’s something that remains to be seen. You know, there’s going to be a choice for the Republican legislators on this, whether they want to be the party of “just say no to everything” and block any kind of progress coming out from Washington, or they want to actually be part of solving some of the problems that are afflicting the American people—and inflicting the world, in the case of climate change, right? They’ve got a choice. You know, there may be some short-term political advantages in their calculations—I don’t know—to just say no, and stymieing everything, and then saying it’s the Democrats’ fault. But you know, the American people aren’t stupid, you know. They can kind of see, I think, what’s going on. And if nothing comes out of Washington, I don’t think the blame is going to be borne entirely by the Democrats; I think the blame is going to be bipartisan. And to me it seems to be a much smarter strategy, if I was, you know, one of the Republican leadership thinking about this, to at least support legislation that you can defend in terms of both your principles and in terms of the impact it’s having on your constituents back home. And it seems to me that that possibility of bipartisan support exists for climate change legislation, particularly if it takes the form of cap-and-dividend, not giveaways to vested interests, not a tax that builds up the coffers of the state, but, rather, a system that gets prices right, that sends price signals to firms and consumers that they need to cut back on carbon consumption, and it recycles that money, transfers that money back to the public. That’s [inaudible]

JAY: Sounds like you’re asking for bipartisan support for a rational policy.

BOYCE: I know it’s a lot to ask for, but that’s it. And I think if we don’t get it, we’re not going to have a policy that endures for the long haul, the four decades that this is going to have the last. And, you know, it’s sort of like if you think about Social Security, right, passed in the ’30s, it’s endured all these years. Why did it last, you know? Roosevelt wanted to build it last. And one of the reasons that they included everybody as recipients of Social Security—not means-tested, not “we’re going to only have it for people who fall below this income level,” or whatever—is that Roosevelt and his group, I think, understood that having this as something that was a right and an opportunity for every American—to protect every American from the risk of penury in their old age was something that was going to have enduring political appeal. And I think the dividends potentially can have that same appeal.

JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about California, which is little more advanced in this whole cap-and-something, cap-and-(fill in the blank). Please join us for the next segment of our review with James Boyce.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee complete accuracy.

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James K. Boyce is a Professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the Director of the Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment at PERI - The Political Economy Research Institute.