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Cap and Horse Trade: Obama’s Uphill Battle for Climate Bill


By Keith Johnson
Wall Street Journal
March 12, 2009


President Obama’s approach to climate legislation seems to be undermining his
chances of passing any climate bill.

That’s not because of Republican opposition. Most Republicans have long been
leery of any cap-and-trade scheme, and the dismal economy has only strengthened
that opposition. The real problem now is among congressional Democrats.
That’s because many “Blue Dog” Democrats worry President Obama’s blueprint for
tackling climate change will unduly burden Rust Belt states by raising energy
costs for consumers and manufacturers. Many Democrats are upset that President
Obama’s budget earmarks most of the $646 billion in cap-and-trade revenue for
generic tax cuts and to help fund other programs, rather than for specific help
to cushion the blow of increased climate regulation.

Former Bush-era EPA official G. Tracy Mehan makes the case today in the American Spectator:

President Obama has driven a stake in the heart of his carbon cap-and-trade
program. By transforming it from a relatively cost-effective environmental
program into a cash cow to finance his ambitious health and social welfare
agenda, he has encumbered it with very expensive baggage. Blue Dog Democrats
and conservation-minded Republicans will gag on its cost to an economy now
racked by recession.One way around rebellious Blue Dogs is a backdoor
approach—passing climate legislation as part of the budget reconciliation
process. That would lower the threshold for approving the legislation—but only
by sidestepping congressional debate and horse-trading on the issue. White House
Budget Director Peter Orszag told the WSJ the administration is “considering”
that approach, though a final decision has yet to be made.

But that would just feed the vicious circle. Both moderate Republicans and
Democrats desperately want to shape climate legislation to suit their states’
interests. Resorting to budget reconciliation rules could further erode
Democratic support, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad warned in Climate Wire:

From a political standpoint, Conrad indicated that a number of senators who
are on the fence or close to it when it comes to climate change legislation
may jump ship if they stand to lose the opportunity to influence the
legislation. “There an awful lot of senators who are on the margins of this
issue who would be very concerned if their leverage was reduced by that
mechanism,” Conrad said.Passing cap-and-trade legislation was always going to be
an uphill battle, made only tougher by the continuing deterioration of the
economy. But the further the climate bill moves from an openly debated
environmental program toward a social agenda implemented by fiat, the tougher
it’s going to get.

 

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