“Shoot” first, take questions later

The debate over health care has deflected attention from the legislative battle over “climate change” legislation. But liberal members of Congress are working behind the scenes to push through a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, according to the Washington Post, Senators Kerry and Boxer plan to unveil a bill before the end of September.
The bill is not likely to be a bipartisan effort. The Post reports that John McCain, who has championed climate change legislation in the past, is on the sidelines expressing doubts about whether the emerging bill will be too liberal (the Post absurdly implies that McCain’s posture could harm his harming his “legislative legacy”). The McCain camp says there has been no effort at bipartisan outreach from his liberal colleagues and no leadership from the White House. This sounds like the health care debate all over again.
Nor is McCain’s sentiment limited to the Republican side of the aisle. Joe Lieberman, who along with McCain wrote the Senate’s first cap and trade legislation back in 2003, sees the Kerry-Boxer proposal as likely to be too liberal. He says he plans to offer key amendments including additional subsidies for nuclear and coal power and money to ease the crunch for utilities and consumers.
The White House is said to consider McCain’s support critical to bringing along Republicans. But it isn’t even clear that Democratic Senators will unanimously back a liberal bill. Blanche Lincoln, whose approval rating in Arkansas is under 40 percent and who is up for re-election next year, is concerned about how the legislation will affect farmers, not to mention electricity prices in general. Arlen Specter, also up for re-election in 2010, frets about the potential loss of manufacturing and coal industry jobs. Evan Bayh has said that any bill curbing U.S. emissions must ensure that developing nations like China and India take verifiable steps to cut their emissions as well.
The Democrats’ strategy appears to be this: write a partisan, liberal bill and then see what compromises might need to be made to enact something. In other words, shoot first and take questions later.
There may be some strategic merit to this approach; after all, why give anything up before you know for sure that you truly need to. But the risk is that opponents will be able to shape initial public perception of the legislation and control the debate thereafter.
And there’s also the risk that, sooner or later (and it has already happened to some extent), the public will tire of hard-core liberals like Kerry and Boxer taking the lead in framing legislation that will affect our economy for decades, and of our “post-partisan” president enabling them to control the agenca and then pushing their radical handiwork.


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