The apparent death of comprehensive climate change legislation in the Senate is prompting the expected round of finger-pointing.
At the heart of the critique is the idea that the Democratic Party was given a rare opportunity (or lifeline) to get legislation through the Senate when the oil spill in the Gulf elevated the political conversation around energy reform. In the end, that opportunity was squandered.
On Friday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) -- one of the Senate's leading proponents of comprehensive reform -- was asked about the inability of the party to translate the oil spill crisis into a firm policy achievement. He offered a fairly frank and self-reflective response: the president and Congress never made the sell.
"[I]t didn't ever get the connection... never in the eyes of the public," the Maryland Democrat said, during a sit-down with bloggers and reporters during the Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas. "They saw the oil spill as an individual problem with one company more so than a dependency on oil. And I think that is probably the reason why we never made the connection. I think the president rightfully so is principally concerned with stopping the flow and the damage. Not so much about using that for promoting an energy bill. He did come to it later but the connection by then was too late. So we didn't get the bump that we needed. We got a little bit of a bump but not the bump we needed. It's unfortunate."
Cardin expressed some optimism about the possibility of re-engaging the issue of climate change next year. But he didn't hide his disappointment with recent developments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-N.V.) has pledged to bring four separate (and smaller) pieces of legislation to address energy-related issues, including home retrofitting, higher fuel standards for heavy vehicles, water and land conservation and a comprehensive response to the Gulf spill. But while Cardin said he expected each of them to be passed, the timing for consideration is up in the air and the overall impact may fall short of what is desired.
"The reality of the situation, the calendar being what it is, we are not going to finish these four energy bills in these next two weeks," said the senator. "They are going to be on the calendar when we return."
"When I ran for the United States Senate," he added, "one of my major issues was energy. And if you don't price pollution, if you don't price carbon, then not only are we not true to ourselves but we are failing the international community."