Obama's new power grab: A climate change treaty without Senate ratification

It’s not a “new” treaty, apparently, if they’re rewriting an old treaty that’s already been ratified. Maybe that’s a sneak peek of Obama’s Syria policy too. Instead of asking for a new AUMF against ISIS, he could issue an “addendum” or whatever to the 2001 AUMF against Al Qaeda. Come to think of it, that’s his approach on immigration too. The mega-amnesty he’s getting ready to uncork isn’t being presented as new policy, even though it would legalize five million people or more. It’s being presented as a discretionary application of law that’s already on the books.

Turns out every bold new move Obama wants to make as president has already been authorized by statute, as if prophesied. I’m almost grateful in hindsight that he asked Congress to pass ObamaCare instead of deciding that some clause buried in the original Medicare bill allows him to order universal health care by fiat.

American negotiators are instead homing in on a hybrid agreement — a proposal to blend legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with new voluntary pledges. The mix would create a deal that would update the treaty, and thus, negotiators say, not require a new vote of ratification.

Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts.

“There’s some legal and political magic to this,” said Jake Schmidt, an expert in global climate negotiations with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “They’re trying to move this as far as possible without having to reach the 67-vote threshold” in the Senate…

A deal that would not need to be ratified by the United States or any other nation is also drawing fire from the world’s poorest countries. In African and low-lying island nations — places that scientists say are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change — officials fear that any agreement made outside the structure of a traditional United Nations treaty will not bind rich countries to spend billions of dollars to help developing nations deal with the forces of climate change.

So enacting emissions policies and reporting progress on meeting them are requirements that will have the force of law, per the earlier treaty, but the actual substance of those policies is TBD and doesn’t require Senate ratification. Am I understanding that correctly? How is that different from O grabbing his pen and rewriting the old AUMF this way: “Congress hereby authorizes the president to use all necessary force against the terrorist group known as Al Qaeda ISIS”?

Three points here. One: It’s academic given the constitutional threshold of 67 votes for ratification, but I wonder if Harry Reid would have been willing to nuke the filibuster for this if the threshold were a simple majority instead. Don’t be so sure he would have; as in 2009, when the Senate began chin-pulling over whether to ratify an eventual Copenhagen accord, there are plenty of Democratic divisions on climate-change policy too. Would Reid rubber-stamp a global warming agreement knowing how awkward it would make life for coal-country candidates like Alison Lundergan Grimes? Two: Unlike DACA, this executive chicanery really might be undone by a Republican president in 2017. I’m convinced that the GOP so fears a backlash among Latino voters over immigration that Obama’s mega-amnesty will be allowed to stand by a Republican successor, albeit with plenty of pleading for Congress to pass something that subsumes O’s policy. That won’t happen here. President Rubio would, under intense pressure from righties, have no choice but to revisit this. Three: Part of O’s strategy in going bananas lately with dubious executive orders might be to bait the GOP into shutting down the government before fall. That’s unlikely to happen — even tea-party congressman recognize what it might do to change the political winds before the midterms — but the more aggressive he gets in seizing the power to decide hot-button issues unilaterally, the more tempted Republicans will be. If he decides to go all-out against ISIS without seeking congressional approval for that either, will that be some sort of final straw for Republicans in Congress? Or will Boehner just amend his lawsuit and add these new power grabs to it? My money’s on the latter.

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