Why the United States Lacks a Federal Climate Policy: Collective Action Problems, Tea Parties, and Blue Dogs
In 2009, President Barack Obama and a majority Democratic 111th Congress came to office in a favorable position to enact federal climate legislation. But less than two years later prospects for passing that legislation dimmed considerably. Most explanations for this turn of events fault 1) institutional rules requiring bills receive a 60-vote supra-majority to avoid a Senate filibuster; and 2) the Obama administration’s decision to prioritize health care over climate change. Both of these explanations, however, overlook that passing climate legislation requires overcoming a collective action problem. This paper uses a logistical regression model on House Bill (H.R.) 2454 (The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009) to demonstrate that a divided Democratic party made resolving this problem particularly challenging during the 111th Congress. To make this problem more tractable, supportive Democrats would be well-advised to build coalitions for climate legislation around its non-climate benefits and the costs of the status quo fragmented regulatory environment. These concentrated benefits/costs may not only break fragile ties between pragmatic and tea party Republicans. The added political benefits of triangulating Republicans may also strengthen incentives for blue dog and green Democrats to find common cause in climate legislation.