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Biden teases political path for climate plans

Joe Biden is offering hints about how he’d try to thread the political needle to move big climate and energy plans through Congress.

Why it matters: If the 2020 election opens a path to moving substantial legislation, it's likely to be a fraught and narrow one that could vanish entirely in the 2022 midterm elections.


Catch up fast: Biden yesterday unveiled plans to spend $2 trillion over four years on clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure projects like mass transit.

The plan also calls for policies including a requirement that power companies provide 100% zero-emissions electricity by 2035.

  • His overall platform is a mix of executive moves and proposals that would require new legislation.

The big picture: Biden campaign officials, on a call with reporters Tuesday, said the plan would involve "some amount of stimulus spending."

  • And Biden is casting the plan as a pillar of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If Biden wins, big clean energy investments will likely be part of a recovery package — which means political pressure to speed up the Senate's slow legislative gears.
  • If this sounds familiar, it is. In 2009, the Obama administration and Capitol Hill Democrats wove clean energy measures into the stimulus package during the financial crisis, albeit on a smaller scale than what Biden's floating.

What they're saying: New York Magazine's Eric Levitz wrote about why linking climate and energy goals to a recovery package matters politically...

  • "In ordinary economic times, mobilizing congressional support for massive federal intervention in the economy can be difficult, even if such intervention is ecologically necessary," he writes.
  • "The silver lining of the present calamity is that it has rendered private investors incapable of achieving a socially acceptable level of unemployment, and has thus broadened support for Uncle Sam stepping in to pick up the slack," his item adds.

The intrigue: Separately, Biden this week slightly backed off his longstanding support for Senate filibuster rules.

  • "It's going to depend on how obstreperous [Republicans] become," he told a group of reporters, per several reports like this Politico piece.
  • That's important because it suggests a potential path for moving the policy — as opposed to spending — parts of his platform that require Capitol Hill approval, such as a "clean energy standard."
  • Of course, if Democrats take the Senate, they can also try to move some big measures through the budget reconciliation process, which provides limited chances to make policy changes without a super-majority.

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