Harry Reid losing his grip on cap-and-trade?

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There has been much grumbling from the left and exultation on the right this week on Harry Reid’s decision to drop cap-and-trade provisions from a scaled-back energy bill.  Is the Senate Majority Leader running scared and caving to midterm jitters?  Or is he playing his cards very carefully?  Either way, don’t bet the farm that the senior senator from the Silver State is ready to cash out on this issue just yet.

With less than 100 days until the November elections, the Majority Leader doesn’t have the votes to pass this legislation – or doesn’t want to pay the price for getting those votes.  When the newly appointed Democratic senator from West Virginia (Goodwin) pointed out that cap-and-trade doesn’t sell in his state, he may have been stating the obvious, but the votes of both West Virginia senators were never in Reid’s calculation on this legislation.  But there are other senators who might consider supporting Reid, just not right now.

The more interesting votes that loom large in Reid’s plans are four Democratic senators facing tough re-election battles (AR, CO, WA, WI) and six seats whose current occupants are not returning that the Majority Leader wants to keep or add to his side of the aisle (KY, IN, IL, MO, OH, PA).  While the Democratic candidates running for the open seats don’t have a vote on this legislation, Harry Reid knows better than most that his own name will loom large in each of these campaigns (or those of their opponents).

In the contentious race for Reid’s own seat in Nevada, cap-and-trade doesn’t appear to be an issue likely to swing that election.

So Reid has chosen to play this round defensively, because he knows he still has time to put this issue on the table down the road.  Once past November 2nd, he essentially has two options.  First, his party endures minimal losses which frees him to horse trade during the lame-duck session with retiring members, as well as with a couple of new senators who could take office immediately due to the specifics of the vacancies they are filling.  Or Reid waits until the next session and uses all of his powers as head Senate bully to ram this economically disruptive legislation through.

Like the equally divisive health care legislation that was passed with barely a vote to spare, the cap-and-trade issue may be back in play sooner than we think.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are the co-founders of CivicForumPAC.