Obama energy bill push straight out of Rahm playbook

Jon Ward Contributor
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Rahm Emanuel didn’t get his way on health care. But he is getting it on energy.

President Obama has pushed hard this week for Congress to pass an energy bill, but has sent mixed signals about whether he wants a price on carbon, which would likely come in the form of a cap and trade system.

Numerous Democratic sources told The Daily Caller it is a clear sign that the White House is pushing ahead with the intent to get whatever it can get passed into law and then claim victory. Some on the Republican side said they believed it is simply a ploy to distract from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and to give Obama something which he can push rather than simply reacting to the disastrous leak.

It is a page right out of the Emanuel playbook. The White House chief of staff is well-known for his pragmatic approach to policy-making and governance, which critics say sublimates substance in favor of simply scoring points. The New York Times dubbed this Rahmism.

Emanuel pushed President Obama to go for a scaled down version of a health bill, especially after Democrats suffered a stinging defeat in the Massachusetts Senate race in January that cost them a filibuster-proof majority.

But Emanuel’s advice did not win the day. Obama decided to forge ahead with a comprehensive health bill, which passed into law in March.

The political context is different now. Most observers realize that if the votes were not there in the Senate Wednesday for a $115 billion bill that extended unemployment insurance and Medicaid assistance, they certainly aren’t there for a cap and trade bill that would hit businesses and consumers hard.

A cap and trade bill would put a price on carbon emissions and drive the price of gas up in order to move the energy economy away from fossil fuels. Democratic senators on Wednesday virtually sneered at reports that they might pass a stringent energy bill after the fall elections in a lame duck session.

So the Obama administration has adopted a strategy in which they give theoretical support to a cap and trade bill – spoken of in political code as a “climate” bill – while avoiding outright support for such a proposal advancing in Congress.

“The president feels strongly that including a component to deal with climate is important in comprehensive energy reform,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Obama allies said they agreed that an energy bill was an important priority for the president.

“I think energy is very close to President Obama’s heart,” said former Clinton White House official Paul Begala. “I went back and re-read his 2004 convention keynote address. In a very thematic speech, he made a point of raising energy. Even his Inaugural Address included a plug for his energy ideas. This is a big deal for him.”

But Gibbs refused to say whether the Kerry-Lieberman bill – which is a cap and trade bill – should be the starting point for energy legislation negotiations. There is talk that the White House would be fine if energy legislation looked more like that proposed by Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican.

The Lugar bill would focus on mandates for vehicle and building fuel efficiency, rather than an economy wide system for capping and pricing carbon emissions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, will meet with Democratic senators on Thursday to discuss a way forward on the issue. Obama will meet with Democratic and Republican senators next week at the White House.

The lack of specifics in Obama’s address to the nation Tuesday night elicited howls of fury from those on the hard left who want a punitive carbon-pricing system.

At the same time, Republicans have decried the Obama push for a bill as exploitative of the oil spill in the Gulf.

“President Obama should not exploit this crisis to impose a job-killing national energy tax on struggling families and small businesses,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican. “There’s nothing responsible or reasonable about a national energy tax that will raise energy costs and destroy more American jobs.”

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