Jul 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden teases political path for climate plans

Joe Biden.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden is offering hints about how he’d try to thread the political needle to move big climate and energy plans through Congress.

Why it matters: If the 2020 election opens a path to moving substantial legislation, it's likely to be a fraught and narrow one that could vanish entirely in the 2022 midterm elections.

Catch up fast: Biden yesterday unveiled plans to spend $2 trillion over four years on clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure projects like mass transit.

The plan also calls for policies including a requirement that power companies provide 100% zero-emissions electricity by 2035.

  • His overall platform is a mix of executive moves and proposals that would require new legislation.

The big picture: Biden campaign officials, on a call with reporters Tuesday, said the plan would involve "some amount of stimulus spending."

  • And Biden is casting the plan as a pillar of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If Biden wins, big clean energy investments will likely be part of a recovery package — which means political pressure to speed up the Senate's slow legislative gears.
  • If this sounds familiar, it is. In 2009, the Obama administration and Capitol Hill Democrats wove clean energy measures into the stimulus package during the financial crisis, albeit on a smaller scale than what Biden's floating.

What they're saying: New York Magazine's Eric Levitz wrote about why linking climate and energy goals to a recovery package matters politically...

  • "In ordinary economic times, mobilizing congressional support for massive federal intervention in the economy can be difficult, even if such intervention is ecologically necessary," he writes.
  • "The silver lining of the present calamity is that it has rendered private investors incapable of achieving a socially acceptable level of unemployment, and has thus broadened support for Uncle Sam stepping in to pick up the slack," his item adds.

The intrigue: Separately, Biden this week slightly backed off his longstanding support for Senate filibuster rules.

  • "It's going to depend on how obstreperous [Republicans] become," he told a group of reporters, per several reports like this Politico piece.
  • That's important because it suggests a potential path for moving the policy — as opposed to spending — parts of his platform that require Capitol Hill approval, such as a "clean energy standard."
  • Of course, if Democrats take the Senate, they can also try to move some big measures through the budget reconciliation process, which provides limited chances to make policy changes without a super-majority.
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