Why do Americans hate politics? Consider last week’s Senate spectacle on whether to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate carbon dioxide. Democrats deliberately turned the votes into a hall of mirrors, with multiple amendments to dodge accountability.
The maneuvering began after Republican Leader Mitch McConnell introduced an amendment that would have barred the EPA from regulating carbon. Congress has never given the EPA that power, and a Democratic Senate expressly rejected cap and tax last year. But Administrator Lisa Jackson’s EPA has claimed that power anyway under the 1970 Clean Air Act and later amendments, even though Michigan Democrat John Dingell says that he and other co-authors never intended to include CO2 as a regulated pollutant.
The McConnell amendment scares the incumbency out of Senate Democrats, especially after what happened in last year’s election to House Democrats who voted for cap-and-tax regulation. Last week the House voted 255-172 for a bill similar to Mr. McConnell’s, and the ayes included 19 Democrats. So what’s a nervous liberal to do?
Jumble the categories to confuse the voters. In classic Senate fashion, this means supporting phony alternatives as political cover, then turning around and voting to kill the McConnell amendment.
Democrats weren’t taking any chances and offered no fewer than three alternatives. West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller got 12 votes for his proposal to delay the EPA’s carbon rule for two years. Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow’s bill to exempt agriculture from the rule received seven votes, and Montana’s Max Baucus got all of seven votes for his bill that would codify the current EPA rule while also exempting agriculture.
Everyone knew all three would fail overwhelmingly because the GOP leadership and most liberal Democrats opposed them. But the amendments served their political purpose in allowing 13 Democrats to vote for one or another. The Senators will now claim that they, too, voted to rein in the EPA, even as they also whisper to the Sierra Club and other green lobbies that they voted to kill Mr. McConnell’s amendment. As Democrats expected, the media ignored all this and merely reported that the effort to limit the EPA had failed. Notice, too, how the green lobbies are keeping quiet lest any crowing embarrass the 13 Democrats.
The McConnell proposal received 50 votes, so it would have reached the 60-vote threshold for passage if those 13 Democrats had voted for it. The nearby table lists the names of those 13 Democrats, along with Maine Republican Susan Collins, who also voted for Mr. Rockefeller’s two-year delay but against her own leader’s more consequential ban.
It’s no coincidence that five of those Democrats are up for re-election in 2012, with Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, Michigan’s Ms. Stabenow and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar running in states that rely heavily on fossil fuels and would be especially hurt by the EPA rule.
All 13 tacitly acknowledged that the EPA rule will do economic damage because they voted to limit its breadth or delay it for two years. But then they helped to kill the one bill that had the most support and would have done the most to prevent that economic damage.
We have far more respect for Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who is running for re-election in 2012 and voted against all four bills to limit the EPA. Those votes may hurt him next year, but at least he didn’t join the cynics. As for the rest, they are today’s reason to hate politics.