Yesterday, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson told Politico he wouldn't support a procedural vote to begin debate on a climate bill that includes a cap on utility emissions:
“A carbon tax or trade piece would significantly increase the utility rates in Nebraska for businesses, agriculture and individuals,” the Nebraska Democrat told POLITICO. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to go. And while I’d usually vote for a motion to proceed, this is so extraordinary, that I just can’t bring myself to do that.”
It's a real stretch for Nelson to say that he would "usually vote for a motion to proceed." Beginning with the stimulus, Nelson has joined with Republicans to obstruct or delay every major Democratic initiative. And while he eventually yields to pressure from his colleagues, it's not before extracting major concessions. Nelson forced Democrats to senselessly cut $25 billion in aid to states from the stimulus, voted against the president's budget, joined a GOP filibuster of former OLC nominee Dawn Johnsen, and worked hard to block the most progressive elements of health-care reform, only agreeing to support a procedural vote after Senate Democrats agreed to exempt Nebraska from future Medicaid costs in the infamous "Cornhusker Kickback" (which eventually cost Democrats the Massachusetts Senate seat). Most recently, Nelson threatened to block financial reform (he eventually relented), and joined with GOP senators to filibuster an extension of unemployment benefits, and having decided that deficits are far more important than keeping the economy afloat.
If Nelson's entire reason for being in the 111th Congress is to block progressive legislation, or anything remotely friendly to progressive interests, then it isn't a surprise that he would preemptively come out against the climate bill. Regardless of the bill's shape, Nelson will find a reason to join a Republican filibuster and relent only when he has extracted as much substance as possible from the proposal.
That said, the only thing worse than Nelson's mindless obstructionism is the demure reaction from his fellow Senate Democrats. Nelson has done little more than keep his colleagues from doing their jobs, and there isn't any indication that he'll be punished for it. Given the incredibly high stakes of climate change, it's baffling that Senate Democrats would remain friendly to Nelson's attempts to scuttle their legislation.
-- Jamelle Bouie