Are Democrats overreaching on cap-and-trade?

Kimberly Strassel believes that Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress has overreached on cap-and-trade by putting Henry Waxman and Edward Markey in charge of energy legislation.  They discovered that their own caucus has major reservations about the radical plans Waxman and Markey have in mind, and that they may have more problems keeping Democratic votes than in gaining Republicans.  It could also set in motion an electoral backlash in areas of the country Obama flipped in 2008:

Cap and trade was already going to be a brawl, but the two upped the ante by including tougher targets and restrictions. If that weren’t enough, they rolled in every other item on the green wish list: a renewable electricity standard; a low-carbon fuel standard; a broader renewable fuels policy; new efficiency standards. Any one of these is a monumental fight on its own. Put together they risk an intra-party committee mutiny.

There’s Mr. Matheson, chair of the Blue Dog energy task force, who has made a political career championing energy diversity and his state’s fossil fuels, and who understands Utah is mostly reliant on coal for its electricity needs. He says he sees several ways this bill could result in a huge “income transfer” from his state to those less fossil-fuel dependent. Indiana Democrat Baron Hill has a similar problem; not only does his district rely on coal, it is home to coal miners. Rick Boucher, who represents the coal-fields of South Virginia, knows the feeling.

Or consider Texas’s Gene Green and Charles Gonzalez, or Louisiana’s Charlie Melancon, oil-patch Dems all, whose home-district refineries would be taxed from every which way by the bill. Mr. Dingell remains protective of his district’s struggling auto workers, which would be further incapacitated by the bill. Pennsylvania’s Mike Doyle won’t easily throw his home-state steel industry over a cliff.

Add in the fact that a number of these Democrats hail from districts that could just as easily be in Republicans’ hands. They aren’t eager to explain to their blue-collar constituents the costs of indulging Mrs. Pelosi’s San Francisco environmentalists. Remember 1993, when President Bill Clinton proposed an energy tax on BTUs? The House swallowed hard and passed the legislation, only to have Senate Democrats kill it; a year later, Newt Gingrich was in charge. With Senate Democrats already backing away from the Obama cap-and-trade plans, at least a few House Dems are reluctant to walk the plank.

Barack Obama successfully flipped key Rust Belt states for the first time in decades in November, in part because he started selling himself in the general election as a post-partisan moderate who understood the need for the coal economy.  Moderate Democrats, especially those who rode in on those coattails, know that they can’t get re-elected if they drive coal production and use out of business, and hike energy costs so high that families can’t afford to keep their houses heated and lit.  The imposition of cap-and-trade as envisioned by Waxman and Markey will do both.

That could give the Republicans a convenient rally point for the midterms, and history provides an example.  In 1993, Bill Clinton made the mistake of thinking that he had a mandate to nationalize the American health-care system, and put Hillary in charge of an elite team to reorder a huge sector of the American economy.  Americans responded by throwing Democrats out of Congress, giving Republicans — who wisely focused on free-market principles and limited government — control of the House for the first time in over 40 years in the midterms.

Republicans need to recall this example.  The massive expenditures of the Obama administration will get rapidly less popular the longer that the economy stagnates, and cap-and-trade energy costs will only prolong the malaise.  They have an opportunity to run on those same core values, which Obama and the Democrats will make even more urgent with their attempted nationalization of both energy and health-care segments.  This time, it would be nice if they’d stick to those principles for more than just a couple of electoral cycles.