Too little, too late

The Washington Times may not be much of a newspaper, but every now and again the right-wing rag’s cozy relationship with the Bush administration earns it a genuine scoop. Today is one of those days: According to the newspaper, President Bush will soon announce that he wants Congress to pass major legislation tackling climate change, and will even lay out a set of basic principles to guide lawmakers as they draft the new legislation.

“This is an attempt to move the administration and the party closer to the center on global warming,” an unnamed “administration source” told the Times. “With these steps, it is hoped that the debate over this is over, and it is time to do something.” So far, no real details of the president’s proposals have been made available, but officials said he was considering options up to and including a fully fledged carbon tax, with the ultimate goal of passing a single, simple piece of legislation that doesn’t place too onerous a regulatory burden on businesses.

That would a be pretty radical about face for the Bush administration, which over the past seven years has done little to help - and plenty to hinder - those working to address climate change. It’s possible, as some have already suggested, that Bush has simply realized that it’s only a matter of time before climate legislation is passed - and reasons that he might as well join the debate and do what he can to dilute the new rules before they are passed into law.

But even if Bush’s change of heart is genuine, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to make much headway in the few months he has left. Today’s Times story was probably a trial balloon, floated by the White House in order to see whether pundits and lawmakers would fall in line; and so far, things don’t look promising. Republican lawmakers have already reportedly rebuffed the President’s proposals, arguing that pushing for new legislation would play into the hands of Democrats and give them the green light to push for sweeping environmental reforms.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have little desire to help Bush reinvent himself as an environmental crusader - and are rightly skeptical about his willingness to put green issues before business interests. More importantly, they’re convinced that come November they’ll have a far greener president in the White House, and probably an expanded majority in Congress. In that context, it makes sense for Dems to rebuff Bush’s overtures, wait for him to leave office, and then work with his successor to pass meaningful and far-reaching environmental reforms.