Can Dems pass climate change bill?

On healthcare and energy at once, Obama looks to fulfill major promises -- now Congress just has to cooperate


Gabriel Winant
June 25, 2009 11:20PM (UTC)

Really, President Obama has just three little things on his plate for the first year of his presidency: Fix the economy, heal the sick, save the world.

For a long time, Obama indicated that, what with soaring gas prices last summer and that pesky global warming thing on the horizon, a new energy plan would be his administration's highest priority. Recession, however, has a funny way of changing presidencies. After being inaugurated and passing the stimulus, Obama seemed to realize that his cap-and-trade proposal for managing emissions was facing a tougher fight, and shifted his emphasis, focusing more on additional plans for economic recovery, and on healthcare reform.

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But just as the healthcare fight is starting to heat up, the House is getting ready to vote on its version of cap-and-trade, the Waxman-Markey Clean Energy and Security Act. House Democrats have shown some concern about reaching a majority, and if Waxman-Markey can’t pass the House, it’s definitely stillborn in the Senate. But on Thursday, Nancy Pelosi called off a plan to appear with Al Gore in a press conference, suggesting that the majority has become more confident about passing the proposal since a compromise between Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Agricultural Committee Chairman Collin Peterson. (Gore will remain in Tennessee, and call members to urge their support from there.)

Obama himself did his best to push for passage on Thursday, taking to the White House Rose Garden in order to urge Congress to back the bill.

In his speech, the president made no bones about the danger of climate change, saying flatly, "It's happening." Still, his remarks were political, targeted at those worried about the economy, not at environmentalists. He seemed especially concerned with batting down the idea that cap-and-trade will deepen the recession. "And most importantly, it will make possible the creation of millions of new jobs," said Obama. "And make no mistake: This is a jobs bill." Seeking to minimize the economic drawbacks further, he waved away eventual costs. "In a decade, the price to the average American will be about the same as a postage stamp per day."

If Obama can point to major legislation on both healthcare and energy and climate in time for the 2010 and 2012 elections, he’ll be able to say that he has, in large part, achieved his domestic mandate. Then he'll just need an economic recovery to go along with it.


Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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