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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Anyone thinking that the immediate past is a prologue for Capitol Hill dealmaking could be in for rough years ahead.

Catch up fast: In late December, Congress passed and President Trump signed legislation to cut a major greenhouse gas, extend clean energy tax incentives and bolster Energy Department tech deployment programs.

Why it matters: That bill was a big deal. But, looking ahead, today brings the runoff elections in Georgia.

  • Unless Democrats beat the odds and win both contests, that means at least two years of a Democratic White House and GOP-led Senate — not the deal-friendly landscape seen in the Obama years.
  • If Democrats do win, they'll govern with the thinnest possible margin.
  • And parts of President-elect Biden's agenda need Congress — notably huge increases in clean energy infrastructure spending — even as he plans aggressive executive moves.

What we're watching: With the caveat that journalists have a not-awesome track record on gaming out the future, the bear case on more big deals looks something like this...

1. December's deal was its own animal. The year-end bill phases down hydrofluorocarbons, the powerful planet-warming gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration.

  • But that's far less politically volatile terrain than mandates to cut carbon emissions from fossil fuels, which face lots of GOP resistance, as the Washington Examiner points out.
  • And the HFC phasedown was not even especially controversial, enjoying buy-in from powerful manufacturers.

2. Big spending plans could struggle for traction, even though the need for more COVID-19 relief could provide a vehicle.

  • Biden wants to spend $2 trillion over four years on climate-friendly initiatives.
  • But as a number of analysts and reporters have pointed out, once Biden is in power, Republicans may revive their fallow deficit concerns.

3. The whole December thing was kind of weird. The deal hitched a ride on a COVID-19 relief and government funding package during a lame-duck session, ahead of a change in White House control, and while party control of the Senate was unknown.

4. Trump will cast a shadow. Yes, he rejects climate science but wound up signing not one but two bills during his only term that bolstered CO2 capture and storage credits (the first was in 2018).

  • But that said, we're seeing right now that a number of Republicans don't want to run afoul of Trump's base, so if he snipes at a potential deal from the sidelines, well, that matters.

5. The left is feeling restive too. The year-end deal bolstered tech that Republicans and some Democrats like that nonetheless make progressives queasy, like CO2 capture and nuclear.

  • That could make dealmaking tougher in the thinly divided House.
  • Related: the Congressional Progressive Caucus has reorganized itself as it looks to operate with more unity.

Yes, but: Is there room for some things to move, maybe in a piecemeal fashion? Yeah, probably.

The big picture: If Democrats somehow win both runoffs, they could pass some measures without needing a supermajority via the budget reconciliation process.

  • But even if control is divided, at some point the idea of an infrastructure package could stop being a running gag, which could allow an opening around areas like mass transit and EV charging.

What they're saying: Josh Barro's latest Business Insider column argues GOP infighting over Trump's baseless election theft claims could bode well for Biden (though it doesn't address energy specifically).

  • "When your opposition is weak and divided is the best time to split them and make deals," he writes.

Go deeper

Schumer rattles reconciliation saber

More than an aisle separates Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, seen in the Senate Chamber after the Capitol siege. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Chuck Schumer is expected to telegraph, as soon as tonight, that he will use his political muscle to pass some of his party’s priorities — like President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Why it matters: While the Senate majority leader wants to work with Republicans on key legislation, advisers say, he will make clear that using the simple majority vote inherent in the budget reconciliation process is one of the big sticks at his disposal.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Schumer suggests Biden could use emergency powers for climate policy

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants President Biden to explore use of emergency executive powers to fight climate change, he told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last night.

Driving the news: Schumer said it "might be a good idea for President Biden to call a climate emergency," and noted, "Then he can do many, many things under the emergency powers of the president ... that he could do without legislation."

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 26, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The rise of corporate renewables

Data: BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals

Companies worldwide are buying more renewable power than ever, and now some of the biggest U.S. corporations say the Biden administration can help decarbonize the nation's power more quickly.

Why it matters: Corporate procurement of renewables — especially wind and solar — is becoming an important deployment driver as companies take advantage of lower prices and look to meet sustainability pledges.