Passing Climate Change Legislation

As the Senate begins to debate climate change following a 74 to 14 vote to proceed, the strategy of opponents is already clear. They are painting the bill as a huge tax hike. A Wall Street Journal editorial salvo led off the barrage yesterday, describing it as a vast tax-fueled expansion of government. In turn, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky dubbed the bill a "giant tax on virtually every aspect of the economy" and later in the day, President Bush duly termed it a "huge spending bill that... would impose roughly $6 trillion in new costs on the American economy."

Conservatives have used the expansion of government argument to great effect before, for example, in killing President Clinton's health care initiative. And the tax and spend charge is a Republican staple going all the way back to Reagan But will it fly, this time around?

It will only if proponents allow the bill to be framed in terms of the present. In present terms, a price on carbon costs money--although this legislation captures the cost and recycles it back into the economy. But the bill is not, really about the present, it's about the future. To ward off the tax charge, proponents need to show that the bill is not about taxes which people don't like but about protecting our environment--which they do--and moving our economy forward toward a better future.

The incentives created by putting a price on carbon will help create a whole new 21st Century post-carbon economy, wholly outside of government regulation, dynamic and fueled laregly by innovation that can restore America's technological leadership and economic strength. That's the argument proponents need to make.

In short, if opponents can keep the focus on the present, they can kill the bill. If proponents can make the debate about building our economic future, they can move it, if not this year, then next.