Who's Got a Scorecard?

If you're worried about global warming, it's been a confusing week. Midweek, 150 major business executives blitzed Capitol Hill, arguing that the Congress needs to pass effective climate and energy legislation. But, in private lobbying meetings, more problems cropped up with senators who are not happy with the distribution of the financial benefits of cap-and trade-legislation. Every senator believes, as Garrison Keillor might put it, that "my state is above average in needing consideration."

And all week the news from the United Nations climate meeting in Bangkok, the last such meeting before Copenhagen, was mostly dark. The U.S. position was heavily criticized by most of the world -- including for the first time our neighbor Mexico -- for walking away from the fundamental principles of the Kyoto Protocol and for failing to bring to the table a credible pledge to catch up with the commitments that the rest of the industrial nations made when they ratified Kyoto (although almost none of them have honored those commitments).

But then, on Friday, President Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize for turning the U.S. from a flagrant rejecter of collaborative international action on climate to a reluctant (if thus far unsatisfactory) partner. On Sunday morning, the New York Times carried an op-ed by Senators John Kerry and Lindsey Graham  calling for a bipartisan effort to pass energy and climate legislation -- the first public break on the Republican side with the "just say no" strategy that's been pounded home by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a way to weaken President Obama and the Democrats. Graham's price was high -- Kerry not only had to pledge that more nuclear energy would be a part of this climate package but also had to promise to make the U.S. "the Saudi Arabia" of clean coal, and to lay on the table the idea of more drilling off America's coasts for oil and gas.

What's it all add up to? It's hard to know because, with the exception of the Nobel Prize, most of this week's events consisted of a public face that was significant, and a private conversation that was even more significant. Will the Senate really kill climate legislation if, at the end of the day, the typical state is treated as "average"? How much of the anger expressed in the Bangkok talks is real, and how much is for the home crowd? What is Lindsey Graham's real price for supporting climate legislation? Will other Republicans join Graham, and will there be enough of them to compensate for the Democrats who can't vote for cap and trade?

The next month will probably bring the answers to these questions -- but my gut tells me that the odds of getting something good done just got better. The bad news was mostly slightly older -- reflecting negotiating positions that have emerged over the past months. The better news was mostly newer. No major new "anti-" block appeared. Graham's going public was a significant "tell," and the fear that the Obama administration might simply ignore energy and climate got smaller with the Nobel. So I think you can look at last week as a good one - just not a decisively good one.

As the momentum for a deal builds, it's time to bargain harder -- because that's what everyone else will be doing.