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Will Cap-and-Trade Go the Way of the Public Option?

December 27, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Now that they’re just about done with removing the public option from the health care bill, several of the same conservative Democrats in the Senate are working on removing the central component — cap and trade — from the Senate climate change bill.


Bruised by the health care debate and worried about what 2010 will bring, moderate Senate Democrats are urging the White House to give up now on any effort to pass a cap-and-trade bill next year.

“I am communicating that in every way I know how,” says Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of at least half a dozen Democrats who’ve told the White House or their own leaders that it’s time to jettison the centerpiece of their party’s plan to curb global warming.

The creation of an economy-wide market for greenhouse gas emissions is as the heart of the climate bill that cleared the House earlier this year. But with the health care fight still raging and the economy still hurting, moderate Democrats have little appetite for another sweeping initiative — especially another one likely to pass with little or no Republican support.

“We need to deal with the phenomena of global warming, but I think it’s very difficult in the kind of economic circumstances we have right now,” said Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, who called passage of any economy-wide cap and trade “unlikely.”

At a meeting about health care last month, moderates pushed to table climate legislation in favor of a jobs bill that would be an easier sell during the 2010 elections, according to Senate Democratic aides.

“I’d just as soon see that set aside until we work through the economy,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “What we don’t want to do is have anything get in the way of working to resolve the problems with the economy.”

The big exception is Sen. Josep h Lieberman [I, CT], who was instrumental in stripping the public option from the health care bill, but is actually leading an effort along with Sen. John Kerry [D, MA] and Sen. Lindsey Graham [R, SC] to craft a cap-and-trade climate bill that can get 60 votes.

There’s also at least a little reason to think that a cap and trade bill could get some GOP support (beyond Sen. Graham). When the Senate voted on cap and trade in June 2008, 7 Republicans voted in favor, two of which are still around — Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] and Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME]. But two of the conservative Dem senators quoted in the Politico article above — Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] and Sen. Evan Bayh [D, IN] — voted in favor of cap and trade last year. So it might just be a less popular proposal across the board now than it was a year and a half ago.

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