Obama is trying get around the Senate to enact a U.N. climate deal

There’s no ambiguity about the process by which the United States can enter into a treaty. The Constitution, in Article II, Section 2, states that a president “shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”

The ratification process is a very specific limitation on presidential power, one that provides a legislative check on the executive branch. But President Barack Obama can’t be bothered by the constitutional process. The New York Times reports that, in his latest move to get around Congress, President Obama’s State Department is negotiating a climate deal at the United Nations to update a 1992 treaty with new emission reduction targets (emphasis added):

Lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill say there is no chance that the currently gridlocked Senate will ratify a climate change treaty in the near future, especially in a political environment where many Republican lawmakers remain skeptical of the established science of human-caused global warming.
[…]
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.

For what it’s worth, according to The Hill, the State Department has “denied” the Times report, so to speak. Jen Psaki simply told reporters that it’s “entirely premature to say whether [the climate deal] will or won’t require Senate approval.” She also said that “[a]nything that is eventually negotiated and that should go to the Senate will go to the Senate.”

Read between the lines. Psaki is playing word games. In no realistic way can that be taken as a denial. In fact, Ronald Bailey notes that the strategy the Obama administration is using is similar to one proposed by a former Clinton administration official and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD).

Keep in mind that the Senate unanimously rejected the Kyoto Accords in July 1997 because, according to the text of the resolution, that climate deal “could result in serious harm to the United States economy, including significant job loss, trade disadvantages, increased energy and consumer costs, or any combination thereof.” Those reasons are why Canada withdrew from Kyoto and why Australia has tried to exit the deal.

Any climate deal, something that could, much like Kyoto, have severe economic consequences, deserves an open debate and vote in the Senate. That’s not only wise given the contentiousness of the issue, but also because it’s the constitutional process.


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