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Friday, June 18, 2010

"The Obama Plot for a Carbon Tax"

Robert Reich:

The Obama Plot for a Carbon Tax, by Robert Reich: ...Tuesday night, President Obama did not call for a tax on carbon. He didn’t even ask the Senate to pass the cap-and-trade legislation that emerged from the House. Instead, he said there were lots of good ideas out there and he’s willing to consider any of them — which seemed more like a way of declaring cap-and-trade dead.
But maybe the President has a more subtle strategy in mind. Here’s what New York Magazine’s John Heilemann thinks may be going on:
Lacking the 60 votes necessary for cap-and-trade, the administration plans to get behind a more modest conservation measure in the Senate, then push for a carbon pricing mechanism during the conference committee merger with the House bill — and do so during a lame-duck session after the midterms, when victorious Democrats will find it easier to make a tough vote and losing ones will be freed of political constraints.
It’s plausible. ... But if that’s his strategy it’s a curious one considering Obama’s great gift ... to stir the nation and mobilize it behind him. ... Closed-door conference committees, back-room deals, and lame-duck sessions keep the public out. And when the public is shut out, the big guys have even more clout.
Yet hard-boiled Washington hands I talk with disagree. They point to the $80 billion back-room deal that bought off Big Pharma for health care. They claim there’s no other way to do business in Washington now because public opinion is too easily manipulated. They say ... deal-making behind closed doors ain’t pretty but the ... only way to get close to a carbon tax or anything else that’s good for America is to buy the bums off.
Maybe. But when the bums are paid off the public gets stuck with the tab. We’ll be paying far more for our drugs under the new health care law than otherwise because of the deal with Big Pharma. Remember the back-room deal that bailed out Wall Street? ...

Call me old fashioned but I still think democracy is better than corporatist negotiation. And when we have a president as articulate and thoughtful as the one we now have — more capable than almost any occupant of the Oval Office in modern times to educate the public about real challenges and real solutions — he and his advisors do a disservice to the American people when they make the important deals in secret.

I thought the problems in the gulf might make passage of greenhouse gas legislation easier -- for one, those who argue that technology can always solve human induced environmental problems before they do much damage ought to be reexamining that belief -- but that doesn't seem to have happened. If anything, the chances of passing meaningful legislation have fallen recently. We may get some action from Congress, enough to allow them to claim in election ads that they did something. But I think it will take a clear signal that the world is warming up, some consequence that is obvious to everyone, before there is significant change.

    Posted by on Friday, June 18, 2010 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Environment | Permalink  Comments (11)


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