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Lyndon Baines Waxman

If Rep. Henry Waxman’s *American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009*, or some version close to it, actually becomes law, policy experts and historians may compare this congressman’s legislative skills to those of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

When Johnson was Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate (1953-61), he mobilized support to pass the 1957 Civil Rights Act, which at the time most observers said would be politically impossible. Southern Democrats were united in their opposition to giving African Americans voting, education, and housing rights. Prior legislative efforts to extend these basic rights had failed to overcome filibusters. However, Johnson personally lobbied each obstinate senator and found the perfect offer (e.g., a commitment to advance another bill, or an appropriation for a special project) to unlock the votes. While the politics weren’t always pretty, Johnson got the job done and African Americans got the rights they should have had many years before.

Rep. Waxman has taken a page from LBJ’s book to solve the climate policy puzzle. For nearly a decade, Congress watchers have said legislation to address global warming couldn’t be passed because narrow energy-related interests would trump any sense of a national interest. Waxman has turned the conventional wisdom on its head and found a formula to get his bill out of committee. His strategy has played out like this:

Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced a discussion draft in March. Environmental groups applauded while some affected companies seethed. Waxman courted undecided Democrats to find out what industries might welcome an initial allocation of free GHG permits. With encouragement from President Obama, Waxman negotiated industry-specific agreements that would bring enough votes into the “yes” column. By the time Waxman released the bill last Friday, he already had a majority of the House Energy and Commerce Committee committed in favor.

The road ahead for HR 2454 will not be easy. A sudden energy price spike could derail the current momentum. And then there’s the Senate to deal with. But Rep. Waxman’s masterful use of LBJ tactics has turned a dead-in-the-water proposition into a bill that might make it to the president’s desk.

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