Barack Obama spoke to the nation for seventeen minutes from the Oval Office, a move intended to frame this speech as his most significant since taking office. As widely expected, Obama tried to give the impression of being in charge in the unfolding disaster in the Gulf, but as noted earlier, failed to convey any sense of having command of the situation. Supporters also widely expected Obama to push hard for the cap-and-trade bill that has been languishing in the Senate for almost a full year. Instead, Obama offered platitudes about wind turbines and green energy, but pointedly avoided a mention of the Kerry-Boxer bill, as Politico reports:
While his rhetoric was commanding and decisive – some administration aides billed the speech as “turning the page” — it wasn’t entirely clear where Obama would go from here to achieve this “national mission.”
Missing from the speech was any specific commitment to a bill regulating carbon emissions, which many environmentalists and some Senate Democrats wanted. Nor did he articulate a strategy for jump-starting the moribund Kerry-Lieberman climate bill, an omission that earned him instant criticism on the left, including a roasting by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews.
“I thought it was a great speech — if you’ve been on another planet for the last 57 days,” Olbermann quipped.
“Is there a specific direction we’re going in? He didn’t even tell us,” added Matthews.
Does that mean cap-and-trade is dead? It’s been pronounced dead on several occasions during the year, only to have Democratic leadership pledge to push forward this year. They don’t have much choice; if the bill doesn’t get passed in this session of Congress, it will have to be reintroduced from scratch in the House next year. As it is, the House will have to have at least one more vote on it to get it to Obama’s desk, probably in a conference committee, if the Senate passes its version. Next year, Democrats won’t have the votes to pass it, and in the House may not have control of the agenda to even get it to a vote.
That’s the conundrum, however. Any Democrat in a competitive district foolish enough to vote for cap-and-trade in the final few months before the general election can assume that his legislative career will come to an end. Many Democrats won’t be returning anyway, but they might believe a chance exists to avoid the tsunami coming in November if they can demonstrate some independence from Nancy Pelosi with a couple of late votes — and cap-and-trade would be an excellent target for strategic voting on their part.
Perhaps Obama just assumed that the bill was dead in this session no matter what he said in his speech last night. However, his refusal to support what had been one of his declared goals for this session of Congress sends a clear message to Democrats in the House and Senate that Obama doesn’t want to waste his declining political capital on yet another deeply unpopular, grasping overhaul of the private sector, this time in energy. Expect Democrats to get it loud and clear — and expect Kerry-Boxer and Waxman-Markey to wither on the vine.