President Obama’s risky perseverance on health care is running over another of his pet government expansions—the cap-and-trade bill sent by the House on June 26 for Senate consideration. Recall that cap-and-trade is complex legislation with a very simple premise: make energy so expensive to consume that Americans use less of it, and “greenhouse gas” emissions are thereby curtailed.

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But even though it’s now clear the bill is not getting out of Congress, look for the Obama Administration to saddle our economy with this huge new energy tax through other means.

First, a brief flashback: The blowback against Obamunism began over global warming, not health care. By a squeaky 219-212 vote, the House rushed the 1,300-page cap-and-trade opus out the door so the members could get back to the hustings for the Fourth of July. When many freshman Democrats got home, those who voted for it experienced the first angry town halls of their careers. In our minds, it is easy to remember that the rancorous public meetings that continued in the August recess were always about health care, but they weren’t.

So, given that health care is now effectively bottled up in both chambers of Congress, why isn’t Obama pushing cap-and-trade in the Senate? Simple: the votes aren’t there for it. Blanche Lincoln, the new head of the Agriculture Committee, calls cap-and-trade a “complete non starter” and said that it is not her “preference to move on cap and trade this year.” Majority Leader Harry Reid recently signaled his agreement by stating that cap-and-trade "may" not be considered until next year.

For cap-and-trade, “next year” translates as “never.” Senators know what touched off the town halls, and they know what fate awaits many of their Democratic colleagues come November 2010. Passing an unpopular health care “public option” along with cap-and-trade will easily realign the Senate into its old filibustering self. That kills cap-and-trade in the next Congress.

But do not despair, fans of economy-killing regulation.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007), the EPA has authority to issue its own regulations on carbon dioxide. So while asking legislators to swallow hard on the bitter gristle of cap-and-trade, the president has really had the power to enact its core components on his own all along. Small wonder lawmakers of his own party are more than willing to toss the issue back onto his plate.


Patrick J. Michaels

Pat Michaels is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don’t Want You to Know.