Nancy Pelosi's risky cap and trade strategy
During an interview in late July, Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained her legislative philosophy to me. "You get the votes," she said, balling one hand into a fist, "and you take the vote," and she punched her other hand. "Because you never know what can happen."
On June 26, Pelosi passed cap and trade out of the House. Many considered it a huge, unforced error. The Senate wouldn't consider the bill for many months, if it ever took it up at all. Health-care reform was in full swing. And Pelosi had just forced her most vulnerable members to take an incredibly difficult vote. The House legislation would languish as it waited for the Senate, and angry House Democrats would be less willing to take a second hard vote on health-care reform.
Talking to congressional Democrats over these past few months, Pelosi's decision to push cap and trade came up in almost every conversation. Coaxing support from vulnerable members who hadn't yet forgiven the leadership for cap and trade had, according to some of these sources, become one of the biggest obstacles to health-care reform.
But health-care reform passed the House. And so, too, did cap and trade, all the way back in June, when most eyes were on health care and the Republicans hadn't yet found their voice in opposition (eight Republicans, in fact, voted for cap and trade). Pelosi's decision to move on climate change as soon as she had the votes now looks, well, a little bit genius: It's virtually impossible to imagine the House passing cap and trade in the coming months, not after the exhausting health-care reform battle and not as the midterm election draws closer.
As for the Senate, they now have the pressure of the House's climate change bill forcing them to focus on the issue. The fact that the House passed the bill and the president is ready to sign a bill means that it's really only the Senate standing in the way of serious legislation to address global warming, and that's not a position the Senate particularly wants to be in. It's also easier for senators to work on legislation in an election year than it is for the House to do the same, and it's easier for them to write legislation when they can sell their efforts as improving what the House has already done. After all, conservative Democrats can say, you don't want that bill, do you?
I'm not saying that cap and trade has great odds this year, but whatever chance it does have is a function of Pelosi passing it back in June. She got the votes, and she took the vote. It's tempting to say that she knew exactly what would happen.
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