Friday, June 26, 2009

Cap and Trade: Good, BAD, BAD, Good

The Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade Bill has passed the US has passed the US House. There's two bits of good news here and two bits of bad. Unfortunately the bad news is a whole lot bigger than the good, but I think one of the good pieces is maybe the most interesting.

First the first good news - something passed. That's a big step forward for America, and sends a signal to the rest of the world that everyone has to get on board about doing something about global warming.

Bad 1. It's a watered down bill, that will end up doing as much for the profit lines as some big polluters as it will about actually slowing climate change.

Bad 2. It barely passed, 219 to 212. That's not a good sign for getting through the Senate. Although it should have 50 votes, getting the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster will be much harder. The margin is slightly deceptive - at least three people voted against it because it wasn't tough enough, but they (and maybe some others) probably would have come on board if their votes were needed. Equivalent people in the Senate would probably help bring it to a vote. Nate Silver discusses the prospects.

Good 2. It does suggest that Obama knew what he was doing. His failure to press for a better bill was to me perhaps the greatest failure of his administration so far. Was he doing this because he knew he couldn't pass a stronger bill, even if he used his authority? Or because he just didn't care that much about climate change compared to other priorities? This outcome suggests the former is more likely. Why does this matter? Well for one thing I think there is a high chance that Obama's power is going to grow. If his healthcare bill passes, the economy picks up, and there are no terrorist disasters he is going to develop an authority that may be very hard Congress to resist, particularly if the Republican's keep losing their leadership.

There's another reason though. Billions of people around the world have invested a log of hope in Obama. If he fails because he is blocked by Congress or other forces some will be disillusioned, but others will just redouble their efforts. But if he fails because of a lack of personal commitment, that will be a very hard blow to take, and may do a lot of damage to the idea that change can be achieved through democratic means. The possibility he's doing all he can may just be symbolic, but its a very important symbol.