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« Obama’s Oil Speech Leads To A Gusher Of Liberal Criticism | Main | Eric Boehlert, Liar »
June 16, 2010

Obama's Cap and Trade Bait and Switch

Three views on it.

Keith Hennessey:

Scenario 1 – Imagine that the President proposes new legislation targeted at the problem of engineering safety in deepwater drilling. [lists proposals to make drilling safer.]


I believe the legislation in scenario 1 would pass the House and Senate within a week or two, with overwhelming and possibly unanimous bipartisan majorities. The President could quickly unify the country and celebrate a wise bipartisan solution to preventing the recurrence of a painful problem. That would still leave the existing crisis, but the long-term policy issues would be solved.

Scenario 2 – The President pushes for enactment of cap-and-trade legislation which raises the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, and of power produced from coal and natural gas. He insists that Congress include all the policies from scenario 1 in this bill.

Scenario 2 is a huge gamble. If the President succeeds, it will probably look like the health care fight. It will be a long, vigorous, largely partisan debate, overlaid with regional economic and energy interests. Legislation will become law only after squeaking out a 60th vote to overcome a filibuster.

The President knows he cannot enact cap-and-trade before November without a game changer. He assumes his legislative margin will be (much) smaller next year. He is rolling the dice to see if he can turn this crisis into a legislative opportunity, in what may be his last chance to enact a national carbon price.


I think solving our deepwater drilling engineering safety problems is now a top national policy priority. I think our other top domestic policy priority needs to be near-term economic growth. I rank climate change lower on my list of policy problems.

The President could have a quick, clean, bipartisan win on legislation that would eliminate the risk of another spill like this one.

Instead he is rolling the dice again, gambling that he can leverage the problems with drilling for oil in deep water to get legislation that also raises costs for power production. He is also choosing a path that he knows will provoke partisan conflict. Maybe he sees an electoral benefit to having the fight.


The President’s War on Fossil Fuels will reinvigorate an intense policy debate on the future of energy and environmental policy in America. He may be successful in bending the Congress to his will, as he did with health care. He may fail.

I prefer another path that is simpler, faster, more unifying, and more targeted at the problem that is in the forefront of our consciousness this summer.

I think it would be good for America to unite and say, “We worked together to prevent that problem in the Gulf from happening again.” It is easy to do so, and I wish the President would choose that path instead.

Liz Mair says Obama's failure to clearly specify he wants cap and trade means it's all but dead:

[T]he real meaning of the speech tonight can, I think, be found when considering these excerpts:
So I am happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party - as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels. Some have suggested raising efficiency standards in our buildings like we did in our cars and trucks. Some believe we should set standards to ensure that more of our electricity comes from wind and solar power. Others wonder why the energy industry only spends a fraction of what the high-tech industry does on research and development - and want to rapidly boost our investments in such research and development.

All of these approaches have merit, and deserve a fear [sic] hearing in the months ahead. But the one approach I will not accept is inaction. The one answer I will not settle for is the idea that this challenge is too big and too difficult to meet.

This has but one translation, and everyone who cares about energy and environmental policy should be paying attention because it's a big 'un: Barack Obama is not wedded to cap-and-trade and is setting things up so that if and when he signs into law something that is not cap-and-trade, nor something even possible to confuse with it, the big story will be "President gets groundbreaking energy bill," and not "President fails to get legislation he's been advocating for four straight years passed."

Both may be right in this sense: Obama may continue supporting cap and trade as he supported the public option, behind the scenes, urging his leftist allies to push on that front, while himself ducking from the debate. (Although in that case Liz Mair is a lot closer to right.)

I think this is like health care in another way. As a commentator noted (Kristen Powers, I think), Obama's chief agenda item last year was fixing the economy. But he decided that was too big a thing to accomplish, so instead changed the subject to a kinda-sorta-related-but-not-really debate over health care legislation.

The real thing he decided he couldn't do, but he wanted some credit on the economic front, so he made up an argument about health care legislation being necessary to get the economy growing again.

He couldn't change facts, but he could change legislation, so that, of course, is what he spent all his energy attempting.

If he'd made fixing the economy his goal, with the implicit suggestion that it is on that issue he should be evaluated, well then, he'd be judged a clear failure for having failed.

Instead, he sneaky-like changed the criteria for evaluating his success. No longer was fixing the economy a presidential-level task; no, the real test of a president was whether he could cobble together enough Congressmen to sign a bill with the words "health care reform" in the title.

People are still hostile to him for that -- but even so, only half the country judges him a failure on that. The other half either judges him a success or has no strong opinion.

Compare that to the case if fixing the economy had been the standard of success -- 90% of the country would judge him a failure. (10% would also judge him a failure but would lie about it if asked.)

The Deepwater Horizon spill is similar. The One Big Thing everyone wants Obama to do is plug the damn hole, skim the oil from the water, and block the advance of the oil to our shorelines.

But he seems to have decided that is something outside his control and so he doesn't want to make that the bar for success.

Instead, he shifts the standard of success to a bunch of things he can achieve... but are trivial.

Getting BP to set up an escrow. Something or other about "green energy." Directing a number of national guardsmen to be ready to do... something or other. Some other horseshit about this other thing.

None of this is actually what the public wants -- we want the hole plugged and the damage contained and mitigated -- but he's decided he can't make that the standard of success, because there's a pretty good chance he'll fail.

So he changes the topic from Plug the damn hole to Pass the damn bill.

Also note Obama can't get into a political argument with the oil spill -- it's, you know, inanimate and all. It's not a "villain" he can demagogue. Because everyone agrees he should stop that spill -- no one is on the other side of the argument -- and his problem is not with politics or arguments or "obstructionist Republicans" but with facts and his own incompetence to change them.

You can't run a poll asking "Who more shares you values -- President Obama, or an inanimate petrochemical disaster?"

No one is stopping him from plugging the damn hole except for circumstances and his lack of ability to change them.

But if he starts pretending that what we really need to do is pass some legislation, he gets into a fight with convenient villains. He shifts the debate from one about his own incompetence into one about Republicans thwarting him.

Cynical, and transparent, but then, that's how he got elected.

Refuse to Engage: One strategy that might work for Republicans is to call Obama out on this cynical strategy, and simply refuse to pass anything or even engage in debate.

A Senator could say, "The only issue right now is plugging that hole and saving our shorelines. Obama wants to distract the country with these other very tangential and not-time-sensitive phony issues. Not only do I not want him to distract the country, but more importantly, I don't want him distracting himself -- I don't want him setting up a media war room where they strategize on how to win the media day. I want him thinking of one thing and one thing only, and that is plugging the damn hole. He already seems too distracted and too disengaged; I'm not going to encourage him to take his eye off the ball still further by playing along with his cynical strategy of distraction."

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posted by Ace at 01:29 PM

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