28 July 2010

The Nuclear Option

[UPDATE 7/29: Just one day later E&E News pours cold water on the nuclear option.]

E&E Daily Reports that the White House has floated the idea of adding cap & trade provisions to energy legislation in conference.

Cap-and-trade provisions that likely cannot pass the Senate directly this year could be added to a narrower energy package during a House and Senate conference, a White House spokesman suggested yesterday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters he "certainly wouldn't rule it out" that a House-Senate conference committee would reconcile differing versions of energy legislation by adding climate provisions left out of a narrow package the Senate is expected to take up this week.

Gibbs said he does not think a climate bill is dead for the year, despite the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to drop greenhouse gas emission limits from the scaled-back oil spill response and energy bill unveiled yesterday.

"The House passed a very strong and very comprehensive energy bill last year," Gibbs said. "The Senate is going to take up a version that is more scaled down but still has some important aspects, particularly dealing with how we deal with oil spills in the future. But I don't think that closes the door -- once a bill passes, each house doesn't close the door to having some sort of conference."

Briefly, here is what this means in the context of US congressional politics: when legislation is passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, it often contains substantive differences. These differences are worked out by a small committee of members of Congress (called a "conference committee") from both chambers in what is called "conference."

Republicans are taking steps to prevent cap and trade from slipping into legislation through a back door. For reasons that I have already discussed, I don't see this effort getting very far, but I am surprised that the White House even raised it as a trial balloon. Maybe they are hoping to distract or otherwise confound the Republicans. If so, playing with bombs is a risky strategy.