Roadblocks. That's what Barack Obama has been encountering on the audacious path toward a European-style welfare state he has set out in his budget and other proposals.
He continues to insist that America cannot enjoy real prosperity again without higher taxes on high earners, a government health insurance program, a cap-and-trade program that amounts to a tax on energy and the effective abolition of secret ballots in unionization elections. The fact that there are large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress made it seem that the path was open. But roadblocks have started to appear.
One has been set up by the Senate Budget Committee. Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota, whose concern about budget deficits has persisted even though we no longer have a Republican president, has apparently decided that cap-and-trade is off the table for this year. But calculation as well as conviction probably lay behind his decision.
Cap-and-trade would impose higher costs on coal-fired electric power plants. In states where most electricity is produced from coal, this would mean higher utility bills for consumers and industrial users. By my count, there are 25 Democratic senators from states that get 60 percent or more of their electricity from coal (in North Dakota, the figure is 93 percent). Conrad needs to hold all but eight of those senators to be sure of the 50 votes he needs for the budget resolution. So you can see why he was ready to ditch cap-and-trade, which, in any case, addresses a problem -- climate change -- whose purported evil effects are decades away.
Ditching cap-and-trade, however, may set up another roadblock, since the money the government was going to take out of the private-sector economy was slated for Obama's middle-class tax cut.
Another roadblock was erected, in concrete, by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter when he announced this week that he would not vote, as he did in the last Congress, to advance the unions' card check bill. It was easy enough to support it and bask in approval from Pennsylvania union leaders when it was clear George W. Bush would veto the measure. But now that we have a president who would sign it, Specter took another look.