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The cap-and-trade context

To put a finer point on why the House mistrusts the Senate, and mistrusts its leadership's ability to predict Senate behavior, consider the House's experience with cap-and-trade legislation. As Kate Sheppard explains, a lot of House members took a hard vote on a complicated bill only to see the whole effort collapse in the Senate.

Also frustrated are those House Democrats who took a significant political hit by voting for the cap-and-trade bill, which was attacked by Republicans as a measure that would kill jobs, empower the "global warming Gestapo," and cripple struggling consumers with exorbitant energy bills. One such Democrat is Tom Perriello, a freshman lawmaker from Virginia who wrested his seat from his Republican opponent in 2008 by just 727 votes. His vote for the Waxman-Markey bill has put him in the line of fire for this year's midterm elections: During the region's big snowstorm this winter, the GOP ran ads mocking his concern about global warming. "It's been very frustrating to see an aggressive agenda that was oriented to rebuilding America's competitive advantage in the world sitting on the Senate floor," Perriello says.

Cap-and-trade was a bit different than the House bill in that there was no assurance of Senate action and President Obama was not planning to turn to the issue for some time. Pelosi passed that bill on a prayer, not a promise. But for House members, it's part of the narrative in which they've taken hard votes only to be hung out to dry by the Senate.

On the other hand, it's hard to see how this matters. House members have already passed health-care reform. This is their baby, whether they like it or not. But they appear to have convinced themselves that the package of tweaks and fixes that'll make up the reconciliation sidecar are either very politically important or very substantively important. The sidecar has become the core of health-care reform rather than a preference among those who want the bill to be the best it can be.

But a world where the Senate bill passes without a reconciliation rider is, substantively and politically, a lot more like a world in which the Senate bill passes alongside the reconciliation fixes than a world in which no bill passes at all. Now, maybe House Democrats really do believe that there's a lot of political opportunity in saying they fixed the bill and killed the Nelson compromise. I'm skeptical. If they spend their time defending this thing rather than enthusiastically selling it, they're toast either way. My read of the dynamic is more that the House simply can't stomach letting the Senate roll over them again. But by making the reconciliation fixes into the whole issue rather than a side issue, they've really focused the Republican mind on doing everything possible to derail those fixes.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 11, 2010; 9:57 AM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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Next: Why health-care reform gets harder over time


The popular unimportance of the reconciliation fixes is evidenced by the fact that only a small minority of the public has any idea what reconciliation is. At this point, it's all "health care reform," so there is no reason for any Dem previously in the yea column to vote against it. Then again, if there aren't credible threats made by House Dems to Senate Dems, they'd have no leverage.

Posted by: etdean1 | March 11, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

House Democrats think of the sidecar as a remedy for the base Democratic enthusiasm gap -- at least the complaints of unions and health care activists to have been "left out" of "reform" have some answer. The Senate bill, alone, is a thumb in the eye of the people precarious Democrats need to work on their campaigns. This is a reasonable calculation.

Posted by: janinsanfran | March 11, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

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