- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

LIMITS ON POWER

“Think the White House may want to work on its vote-counting operation before the health care bill makes it to the Senate floor?” ABC News’ Rick Klein writes in the Note at abcnews.com.

“Think the CBO might be just as brutal as the IOC - with scoring that counts just as much?” Mr. Klein asked.

“Think the public debate over Afghanistan strategy gets any easier as events shape perceptions?

“Nobody will much remember a 24-hour trip to Denmark in early fall if, by the start of winter, there’s a health care bill in place and an Afghanistan policy everyone in the administration can agree to.

“But whether President Obama’s focus turns abroad again or stays at home for a stretch, the president is confronting the limits of his political capital - from an Olympic loss, to the near-certain loss of a public option in a health care bill, and the end of streamlined decision-making on Afghanistan.

“This is a time where the president needs to be spending his capital - in the halls of Congress, and on the world stage. But when he talks, who is listening? (And does the president lose options himself the longer he chooses to keep listening?)”

POLITICS AT EPA

” ‘In recent years, many Americans have had cause to wonder whether decisions made at EPA were guided by science and the law, or whether those principles had been trumped by politics,’ declared Lisa Jackson in San Francisco last week. The Environmental Protection Agency chief can’t stop kicking the Bush administration, but the irony is that the Obama EPA is far more ‘political’ than the Bush team ever was,” the Wall Street Journal said Monday in an editorial.

“How else to explain the coordinated release on Wednesday of the EPA’s new rules that make carbon a dangerous pollutant and John Kerry’s cap-and-trade bill? Ms. Jackson is issuing a political ultimatum to business, as well as to Midwestern and rural Democrats: Support the Kerry-Obama climate tax agenda - or we’ll punish your utilities and consumers without your vote.

“The EPA has now formally made an ‘endangerment finding’ on CO2, which will impose the command-and-control regulations of the Clean Air Act across the entire economy. Because this law was never written to apply to carbon, the costs will far exceed those of a straight carbon tax or even cap and trade - though judging by the bills Democrats are stitching together, perhaps not by much. In any case, the point of this reckless ‘endangerment’ is to force industry and politicians wary of raising taxes to concede, lest companies have to endure even worse economic and bureaucratic destruction from the EPA,” the newspaper said.

“Ms. Jackson made a show of saying her new rules would only apply to some 10,000 facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, as if that were a concession. These are the businesses - utilities, refineries, heavy manufacturers and so forth - that have the most to lose and are therefore most sensitive to political coercion.

“The idea is to get Exelon and other utilities to lobby Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill that gives them compensating emissions allowances that they can sell to offset the cost of the new regulations. White House green czar Carol Browner was explicit on the coercion point last week, telling a forum hosted by the Atlantic Monthly that the EPA move would ‘obviously encourage the business community to raise their voices in Congress.’ In Sicily and parts of New Jersey, they call that an offer you can’t refuse.”

DANGER AHEAD

“If the unemployment numbers keep rising into 2010, the Republicans are primed to pick up dozens of seats in the House, crippling the Obama administration’s capacity to recoup in the second half of the president’s first term,” liberal pundit Robert Kuttner writes at www.huffingtonpost.com.

“Obama would lose his very tenuous working majority and would confront a situation very much like the one Bill Clinton faced after the Republican gains of 1994, when he worked even more closely with Republicans in order to save his own skin. If you liked triangulation Clinton-style, wait for Rahm Emanuel’s version of it,” Mr. Kuttner said.

“The most recent employment numbers were bad enough on their face - 263,000 job losses in September, and a measured increase in payroll employment to 9.8 percent. But the real numbers are much worse. The nominal rate conceals the fact that the labor force is 615,000 workers smaller than it was a year ago, even though the working-age population continues to grow.

“People who can’t find jobs and quit looking are no longer counted as part of the labor force. If normal labor-force growth had continued, the unemployment rate would be close to 12 percent. See the analysis of the numbers by the good people at the Economic Policy Institute and the estimable Dean Baker [of the Center for Economic and Policy Research]. The administration’s people know this reality, and they are aware of the political risks. So what are they doing? Precious little.

“I had a conversation with a senior administration economic official last week, and I asked him to suspend disbelief and consider a large increase in public spending to create more jobs. What would he spend the money on? We discussed the pros and cons of emergency fiscal aid to the states versus a tax credit for job creation in the private sector, subsidized job-sharing, and direct public works employment. But it was clear that the administration considers a Stimulus II a non-starter. The view is shared by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who testified last week that there was not much we could do about rising unemployment except wait it out.

“This is economically deplorable and politically self-defeating.”

FRIST’S VIEW

Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and former Senate majority leader, says he opposes the various health care bills in Congress, despite reports to the contrary, Paul Bedard reports in the Washington Whispers column at www.usnews.com.

“Voters will be angry and mount a backlash against Democrats in upcoming elections unless the five different health care reform bills working through Congress are redrawn to prevent higher taxes and insurance premiums, according to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

“The former lawmaker, a heart surgeon who teamed with Democrats to push some previous health care reforms, told Whispers that he would not vote for any of the five bills without major changes. Time [on Monday] reported that Frist would support the legislation, but he told Whispers that he was ‘disappointed’ with that story because it didn’t reflect his view.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected]

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