Climate Pact End Run

Talk Of Avoiding ‘Treaty’ Vote Latest Constitutional Dagger

Posted: September 1, 2014

Is it, or is it not, a treaty — and, if it is, does President Obama plan on taking it to the United Nations without benefit of Senate approval?

These are questions posed, by conservative commentators as well as vulnerable Democratic politicians facing strong electoral challenges, in the wake of a New York Times story indicating Mr. Obama may sidestep the Constitution to advance a global climate-change accord. For the record, legally binding treaties require more than a presidential signature; they must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate.

To quell the inevitable firestorm of protest, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said, “it is entirely premature to say whether it will or won’t require Senate approval.” Thus, there’s some question whether Mr. Obama’s “politically binding” proposal to “name and shame” nations into cutting their carbon emissions satisfies the definition of a “treaty.”

Skeptics have every right to be, well, skeptical in this regard. Definitions can be fudged, but Mr. Obama’s track record is beyond dispute: This would not be the first time he’s treated the Constitution as a malleable series of suggestions, written in sand, rather than as the government’s foundational bedrock. We need not cite chapter and verse of the president’s previous transgressions along these lines, though we will note he’s also pondering whether to unilaterally declare as many as 5 million — and perhaps even more — “undocumented” immigrants legal residents.

Closer to the arena in question, even The Times, that newspaper of liberal record, observed that “in seeking to go around Congress to push his international climate-change agenda, Mr. Obama is echoing his domestic climate strategy.” Ever since Congress — one dominated by Democrats, by the way — balked at approving noxious cap-and-trade legislation in 2009, the president’s Environmental Protection Agency, unelected bureaucrats all, has been pushing its own set of climate-change regulations. Its prime target: new and existing power plants — and, by extension, the entire coal industry.

Small wonder, then, that even such reliable Democratic lawmakers as West Virginia’s Nick Rahall are saying, “This administration’s go-it-alone strategy is surely less about dysfunction in Congress than about the president’s own unwillingness to listen to our coal miners, steelworkers, farmers, and working families.” Mr. Rahall, not surprisingly, is locked in a tough re-election tussle.

Truth be told, though, Mr. Rahall is hardly alone. Congress as a whole — and particularly a Senate still dominated by Democrats — has little stomach for climate-changes treaties, or accords, or agreements, or whatever Mr. Obama chooses to call them. Such reticence dates back, at least, to 1997, when the upper house, by a 95-0 count, passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which placed any and all climate-change proposals in a tight noose by stating no developing countries should be excluded from such protocols and no harm imposed on the U.S. economy.

And, for a final kicker: The latest United Nations’ “My World” survey asked respondents to ponder 16 issues and select the six that registered as “most important for you and your family.” As of Wednesday, 3.86 million votes had been recorded worldwide. Dead last among the choices? “Action taken on climate change.”



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