CAP’s Joseph Romm at Salon is doing God’s work (literally), namely, trying to figure out how to get China to reduce its carbon emissions. As they say, read the whole thing. But he makes a crucial legal mistake, which changes things.
Romm argues that the chances of a climate treaty are virtually nonexistent because
for all his talents, Obama can’t move the immovable conservatives in Congress. He can’t deliver the 67 Senate votes needed to approve any international treaty that is likely to come out of the UNFCCC negotiating process in Copenhagen. Yes, Democrats have expanded their majority in the Senate, edging close to the magical 60 votes needed to stop filibusters, and they just may get there on key issues with the help of the few remaining moderate Republicans.
But . . . the conservatives in Congress seem stuck in 1985, unwilling or unable to acknowledge the now painfully obvious reality of global warming or the remarkable advances that have been made in clean technologies. They lined up as a solid bloc against a U.S. climate bill and will surely do so until the last lump of coal can be pried from their submerged hot hands.
All true, except for the law. Romm assumes, as do many, that the Constitution requires 67 votes–or 2/3 of Senators–for a treaty. And why not? Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution says as much.
But over the last six decades, many of the most significant “treaties” have been enacted as “Congressional-Executive Agreements,” which only require simple majorities (and thus, in the Senate, 60 votes). These include NAFTA and American accession to the WTO. Since the Second World War, the United States has ratified over 16,000 agreements; only a little less than a thousand–around 6%–have been “treaties.”
Thus, Obama doesn’t need 67 votes; he only needs 60. That’s hard, but it’s far more doable.