Evan Juska: US midterms unlikely to change carbon pricing politics

31 October 2013

The Climate Group’s Head of US Policy, Evan Juska analyzes the latest US climate policy developments and trends in his blog, here focusing on the impacts of the US midterms on carbon pricing.

By Evan Juska, Head of US Policy, The Climate Group.

With the Republican Party’s favorability ratings reaching record lows this month, some have begun wondering whether Democrats could actually retake control of the House of Representatives in next year’s midterm elections. 

This has led to more speculation about whether, if Democrats did come out of the elections with control of both chambers, climate legislation might find its way back on the agenda in the final years of President Obama’s second term.  

But even a Democratic wave in next year’s midterms would be unlikely to tip the scales in favor of new carbon pricing legislation.

Based on symbolic votes taken on a carbon tax earlier this year, carbon pricing policies currently appear to be about 30 votes shy of passing in the House and about 18 votes shy of passing in the Senate.[1]

According to the latest estimates from the Cook Political Report, there are currently only 19 Republicans in the House and 2 Republicans in the Senate expected to be in competitive races next year.

That means that even if Democrats were to win every vulnerable Republican seat, and successfully defend all of their own vulnerable seats (currently 24 in the House and 9 in the Senate), while it would be enough to win them control of the House, it would still leave carbon pricing legislation about a dozen votes shy of passing in both chambers.

carbon price

The shortfall in this scenario would come primarily from Democrats who don’t support a carbon price, most of whom hail from conservative states and districts. For example, almost all of the Democrats representing states or districts that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 (6 of 9 in the House and 12 of 12 in the Senate) currently oppose carbon pricing.

And because most of the vulnerable Republicans in next year’s election are also in “red” states or districts (12 of 18 in the House and 2 of 2 in the Senate), it’s also likely that some of the newly elected Democrats would oppose carbon pricing as well– which would make the vote deficit illustrated above even larger.

So while there may now be an outside chance that next year’s midterms could shift the balance of power in the House, it still doesn’t look like they will change carbon pricing politics.

[1] Because they were symbolic and ambiguously worded, these votes are not a perfect proxy for carbon pricing support in Congress, but they are probably pretty close.  Also, the estimates here assume that Members who didn’t vote would have voted with their party. 

Read more by Evan Juska in his US policy blog.

Read our report - American Clean Revolution: Why the US should play to win on the clean economy

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Image by DB King

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