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Is A Bipartisan Climate Bill Possible?

I'm sure many people saw that, over the weekend, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) penned an op-ed with John Kerry in The New York Times laying out a pathway for a bipartisan deal on climate legislation. That's big news. Maybe not a "game-changer," as some greens have been crowning it, but big news all the same. A cap-and-trade bill likely can't survive the Senate without some Republican support, and while Graham isn't exactly co-sponsoring the Kerry-Boxer proposal just yet, he's at least naming his price (namely: more support for nukes, offshore drilling, carbon tariffs). That sets up a different dynamic than outright, arms-crossed, GOP recalcitrance. As Dave Roberts explains, there are probably four or five Republicans in play right now:

Snowe and Collins are likely yes votes. With Graham so far out ahead on this, McCain may be shamed into joining him (though he’s far from a sure thing). Together they could get a second hearing from other Senators like Isakson who love nuclear power. (Alexander’s probably a lost cause now that he’s in leadership.) Their combined influence, coupled with his longstanding relationship with Obama, could pull Lugar over. In Florida, Crist could see this as part of his legacy and influence LeMieux to get behind it. At some point you can imagine a snowball effect, though the odds of breaking five Republican yea votes are still fairly low.

Now, to get skeptical for a second, it's also true that we saw similar GOP overtures early on in the health care debate. Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, and Orrin Hatch all claimed to be amenable to a deal, and so Max Baucus twisted around trying to meet their needs. But, as the process trudged along, no amount of compromising would satisfy Grassley or Enzi, and virtually every Republican came out against health care reform (Olympia Snowe's still keeping us guessing). Maybe there was just no possible deal that could placate both liberals and conservatives, or maybe, as Jon Cohn argued, those olive-branch-wielding Republicans like Grassley and Hatch were never that serious about a deal. Either way, it didn't happen.

So we'll have to see, in the coming months, how committed Graham actually is. The op-ed certainly suggests genuine interest. But many Republicans believe cap-and-trade presents the perfect opportunity to cudgel Democrats and win back some seats in Congress. Recent data doesn't really bear that out—the already passed House climate bill polls quite well even in swing states—but that's still the conventional wisdom, and there'll no doubt be plenty of institutional pressure on Graham and the others to abandon Democrats on this issue (much as the GOP leadership exerted a lot of heavy pressure on Grassley not to strike a deal on health care).