Mick Jagger and the Climate Change Bill

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 10:31 AM EDT

It's not a big surprise that John Podesta, who heads the Center for American Progress and who ran President Barack Obama's transition, has endorsed the imperfect Waxman-Markey climate change legislation. Podesta, who has long worked on climate change, writes

Once again, Mick Jagger is right: “You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try, sometimes you just might find/ You get what you need.” The House of Representatives is poised for its first ever floor debate on legislation to reduce global warming pollution. This landmark bill is revolutionary in its intent and, while imperfect in its means, deserves the support of progressives.

Podesta is a smart fellow, but he has this Rolling Stones reference backward. If you believe the scientists—and I believe them—then we need a greater and faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than we would get from this bill. Unlike, say, the public health plan option, this is not a matter of obtaining merely what progressives want.

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So should progressives back this not-a-full-loaf bill? Matt Yglesias offers this hard-headed guidance: follow the Waxman. Citing a recent Charles Homans profile of Waxman (and you can see a Waxman profile I did a few years ago), he writes:

There’s simply nobody else in Congress whose record of progressive legislative accomplishments can hold a candle to Waxman’s. When you draw intersecting curves of “what needs to be done” and “what can realistically be done,” Waxman has time and again put himself at the intersection, and I think it involves a fair amount of hubris to think that you know better than him what the best feasible legislative outcome is.

I would add Representative Ed Markey to this equation. For decades, Markey has been a passionate champion of environmental and clean energy causes. A few months ago, he complained to me about Washington's inability to address the threat of climate change. Like Waxman, he gives a damn about this and truly wants to pass the toughest bill possible.

Enviros can decide for themselves how much compromise to accept. Ultimately, our political system may not at this time—even with President Barack Obama at the helm—be able to handle the full truth about climate change and act accordingly. But it's hard to second-guess Markey and Waxman. If they are cutting deals, they are doing what they reluctantly need to do, not what they want.

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