President Obama reportedly plans to do an end-run around Congress to forge an international climate change deal, effectively bypassing the Constitution's requirement to get the Senate's approval for a treaty.
The New York Times reported that the agreement is slated to be signed at a United Nations meeting next year in Paris. However, because the U.S. Senate is unlikely to ratify any international climate treaty, Obama’s negotiators reportedly are working toward an alternative agreement – a “politically binding” deal that would serve in lieu of a bona-fide treaty.
One expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council told the Times “there’s some legal and political magic to this.”
The developments underscore the administration’s dim chances of being able to rally the constitutionally mandated two-thirds majority in the Senate to ratify a new international treaty. But at a time when the House already is suing the president over his alleged abuse of executive power, the move to go around Congress is likely to strike a nerve with lawmakers.
"Once again, the president is trying to go around Congress and ignore Americans who cannot afford more expensive, extreme energy regulations," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in a statement.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki downplayed the reported developments in a statement on Wednesday.
"Not a word of the new climate agreement currently under discussion has been written, so it is entirely premature to say whether it will or won't require Senate approval," she said. "Our goal is to negotiate a successful and effective global climate agreement that can help address this pressing challenge. Anything that is eventually negotiated and that should go to the Senate will go to the Senate. We will continue to consult with Congress on this important issue."
The Times reported that while the agreement would not have the full force of a treaty, it would “name and shame” countries into cutting fossil fuel emissions.
The proposal was described as a hybrid – combining the legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with “new voluntary pledges.”
By doing so, negotiators reportedly claim the new agreement would not require a ratification vote.
Under the terms, co-signers would have to enact climate change policies but would be on the honor system for cutting to specific emissions levels and sending money to poor countries.
House science committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said international agreements require congressional approval as an "important safeguard."
"This yet another example of a president who is willing to ignore the rule of law to get what he wants," he said in a statement.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a statement Wednesday that the report shows Obama has "given up on his dream of enacting an internationally binding global warming treaty," reiterating that the Senate would not ratify such a treaty.
He added: "We will continue to fight the president's economy crushing domestic greenhouse gas regulations. U.S. economic competitiveness is hanging in the balance, and additional U.S. restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions will only hurt the United States as other nations like Australia either scrap or water down their unsuccessful green dream policies."