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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dealing With a Different Wheel

As we await the next step on energy legislation in the Senate, Ezra Klein makes an extremely important if fairly obvious point about the Obama administration’s apparent determination to get something passed even if it doesn’t include a cap-and-trade system or some equivalent carbon pricing mechanism. If the Senate won’t pass such provisions now, it won’t pass them later, either:

There’s nothing magic about [a House-Senate] conference that allows controversial policies that couldn’t pass the Senate the first time around to pass on the second go. The advantage of a conference report is that it can’t be amended, which means you might be able to sneak in some small concessions to the House that aren’t important enough for anyone to sink the whole bill over. But it can be filibustered. So if you add anything major to the bill that would’ve killed it on the pre-conference vote, it’s a good bet that it’ll kill it on the post-conference vote as well.
Carbon pricing almost certainly falls into that category. It’s not a side policy or a bit of pork. It’s the core of a climate bill. If it doesn’t pass in the original Senate bill, that’s because it can’t pass the Senate. Adding it in during conference won’t change that. It’ll just mean the conference report can’t pass the Senate, either. I can’t see any permutation of this in which a conference strategy for carbon pricing makes any sense.

This doesn’t, of course, mean that Congress can’t pass worthwhile energy legislation this year. But it’s not going to magically become a real climate change bill somewhere down the road, particularly with Republicans now monolithically opposing a cap-and-trade approach they once championed.
It’s fine to wheel and deal on legislation, but sometimes the only deal available is one that turns the wheel to an entirely different outcome. That’s probably where things are headed on energy this year.

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