The political surprise of the year: Health care reform is tougher than climate action

I realize that in the blogging world you get no credit for claiming things after-the-fact.  But what has been obvious to some of us for a while is now I think becoming painfully obvious to the White House and Congressional Democrats:  A serious climate bill is politically easier than a serious health care bill.

The reason is simple.  It comes down to three letters of the alphabet — CBO.  The climate bill always had one big advantage — it pays for itself.  Most of the serious health care reform options on the table, however, add more than $1 trillion to the federal budget deficit according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Making climate action deficit neutral is easy.  Making healthcare deficit neutral ain’t, especially if you want to deal with those 50 million uninsured Americans.

And even though healthcare appears to be a more politically popular issue, major reform of the system in fact does not appear to be more popular than clean energy and environmental protection.

Yes, I know that many progressives are rightfully unhappy with the compromises that have been made in the Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy bill.  But all I can say is, wait until you see the compromises that will be made to pass a deficit-neutral health care bill.  Such is life inside the Washington DC beltway when one entire political party is not just dead set against all efforts to solve the nation’s major problems, but demagogues against the most important strategies.  That sharply narrows the political space in which action can take place.

And yes, we haven’t passed the climate bill through both houses yet — or even one!  But I think we will, especially as the White House comes to recognize the political reality and ramps up its lobbying and messaging effort for the Senate debate in the fall.

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8 Responses to The political surprise of the year: Health care reform is tougher than climate action

  1. To digress from the usual theme of climate, there is one health-care reform that would more than pay for itself: set up a commission to study which medical procedures are effective, so we can eliminate medicare payments for those that are not effective.

    Americans spend twice as much on health care as the average of other industrial nations and have slightly worse results, so there is obviously a lot of fat to cut.

    Needless to say, the Republicans would demagogue against this as “rationing” – but it is not really rationing to refuse to pay for treatments that do no good.

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    OT, Elizabeth Kolbert has a profile of Jim Hansen in this weeks issue of New Yorker (written before his arrest protesting MTR). It also has his unhappiness with cap and trade, of course.

  3. Bill R says:

    As much as I think Health Care Reform is important, changing the way we consume Energy was always in my mind vastly more important… expecially b/c I view Peak Oil as coming very soon, and potentially leading to a slow collapse if we do nothing about it.

    So, I was a bit frustrated because it felt to me that Obama was going to expend his “political capital” first on healthcare, and that he might not have enough left to get a significant energy bill through afterwards.

    I’m not savvy in these things, but I now have to wonder out loud whether these are being pursued almost concurrently because the administration knows that the media and pubic are only capable of one discussion at a time in any depth (if at all with any depth) and that healthcare might provide some cover for big energy legislation? That we will wake up and find that a energy bill leap-frogged into passage before healthcare?

  4. gmo says:

    We have the “change” President with his party having substantial majorities in both house of the legislature, yet addressing climate change and health care are still far from slam dunks.

    People can complain about W-M not being strong enough, but I hope among those displeased with it and pining for something much grander there is recognition of the difficulty in even getting the bill as we see it today. Many people do not “get it” when it comes to climate change as an issue and threat, however I think many who do “get it” do not understand the daunting political reality to be faced in trying to do something (much less everything) to deal with it.

  5. Brendan says:

    I’m surprised to see how little these two issues are discussed together. As an asthmatic who grew up downwind of Detroit and Buffalo, in an area with surprisingly high cancer rates, the two have always been interconnected in my mind. I suspect much of my interest in the environment began, unbeknown to me at the time, on that fateful night when I was three and I couldn’t breath for the first time in my memory (I suppose to be fair, that was my first memory… how wonderful, huh?). How much money are we spending trying to manage and/or cure problems that can be traced back to environmental issues in the first place? As much as we have cleaned up some of the pollutants that are the biggest offenders, it should serve as a pretty stark warning about the unintended consequences of not dealing with environmental issues like CO2 and climate change and our reliance on carcinogenic oil products. It seems like there needs to be more discussion about how the two issues are interrelated.

  6. Ed says:

    Jim is right in his disgust regarding “Cap and Trade”. It was introduced in Europe, years ago as a way to address Kyoto. Gas prices at the pump are about 1.60 euro a liter (for petrol in Holland). That would be about 2,5 dollars a liter. Now take a boat, sail to Holland cycle to Schiphol and look at the carpark and find the fuel efficient cars. Lots of luck, but don’t be supprised if a Hummer H1 clogs up an Amsterdam canal. It happens. Also remember Dutch have less te spend due to lower wages etc.

    The only way forward is Jim’s approach and that is greening the econony by letting everybody see at once how much CO2 they are using. Currently the Dutch are more frugal (2/3 more or less), but that is not related to more efficient appliances (or cars), that is purely related to a more energy efficient lifestyle (by chance). We live more like New Yorkers then like Bay Area residents. That’s all. And do we live susutainable? Look at this Norwegian site for some sobering figures.

    So you see, only countries like Tanzania currently are in control of th

    [JR: Sorry, Jim’s approach is a tax — and your very example shows why a tax won’t work. Even with very high gasoline prices, people still use the stuff in efficiently.]

  7. Ed says:

    eir CO2 output.

    Now how’s that for a wakeup call. Well these clever Norwegians also counted imported CO2 emissions. We could green up our economies easy enough by exporting CO2 rich industries abroad (while keeping the profits to be made in the west). And low and behold we do, due to globalization. But be honest, is it fair to attribute CO2 emissions to a third world nation like Indonesia just because they are forced to produce the computer (designed by Hewlett Packard) on which I’m writing this entry.

    Greetings, Ed Kuipers

  8. Greg Robie says:

    Is health care (even with the best option being kept off the table—and is there any correlation between this and the ACES legislation?) harder to pass because that legislation is a game changer with understood costs that enough big businesses now wants externalized, while ACES now amounts to next-to-nothing, in terms of significant (scientifically relevant re: 2 degrees centigrade increase; 400 ppm CO2e) GHG emission reductions? And, BTW, the economic dynamics of the shift is not settled (see references # 38 and 39, — CBO and McKinsey analysis withstanding, of course).

    With off sets, being limited to U.S. sources, stripping EPA (again) of ability to implement Clean Air Act of 1970 re: coal, atmospheric methane on the rise (again—but always increasing in Arctic) and government website for Markey’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming still list methane as stabilized on their “Science Basics” page, permits mostly given away, etc. (latest—corn-based ethanol getting 4 year exemption) one has to wonder if an employer, rather than science is directing the content of CP in the lead up to the floor vote on ACES. In terms of the family of nation’s response to this legislation I crafted this Tweet:Is the meme meriting boos in Bali the same that is unraveling ACES/Waxman-Markey—and commands catcalls at Copenhagen?

    Anyway, is it time for CP to get back to covering the science of climate change? What’s up with Arctic atmospheric methane increasing? What’s up with the jet stream appearing where it is this week and stalling and turning south formerly gulf stream propelled north-eastward bound storms? Regardless, is it increasingly clear that macro economic dynamics are not a current strength re: CP content (and is this due to motivated reasoning)?