Before President Obama’s Oval Office address last night, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) took to the Senate floor to implore Obama to not “use the oil spill as an excuse to pass” a cap on carbon emissions, which Alexander called “a national energy tax.” As Matt Yglesias noted last night, “Obama didn’t” use the speech to push “a comprehensive climate/energy plan that puts a price on carbon.” In fact, Obama may have even “put the dagger into his long-sought plans for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions by opening the door for alternatives.”
But Obama’s seeming concession to Alexander’s position hasn’t appeased him. On MSNBC this morning, Chuck Todd noted that “it looked as if the president did take your advice. He did not make a push for pricing carbon, pollution, cap-and-trade, whatever you want to refer to it as in his speech last night.” Asked if that made him “happy,” Alexander, replied, “No”:
TODD: Did that make you happy?
ALEXANDER: No. He took part of my advice. Actually, he did, he referred to the climate bill. It’s hard — he never referred to much, to tell you the truth, Chuck. What I hoped he would do is to say he wanted a mini-Manhattan project for clean energy and focus on the things we agree on. Electric cars, nuclear plants, energy research and development. He could have done that.
GUTHRIE: How, wait, how is what he said inconsistent with that?
ALEXANDER: Well, he didn’t say that. I mean, president’s only have this opportunity every several years. I mean, President Reagan did it on the Challenger. President Bush on 9/11. This was a chance for the president to say this is the way we’re going to go.
Todd pointed out that “it did seem as if in the speech that he was trying to leave a lot of room for negotiation, that he took out any language that might have set some folks off.” Asked if that was helpful, Alexander said, “maybe so,” before criticizing Obama for “mentioning windmills and solar panels twice,” which he says “has nothing to do with reducing our dependence on foreign oil.” Watch it:
When Alexander introduced his proposal for an energy policy response to the Gulf oil crisis in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait noted that Alexander’s clean energy vision was “a lot like the Republican health care vision: let’s do all the popular stuff and none of the unpopular stuff it requires.”
Obama’s inability to persuade his Republican critics despite making concessions recalls the Republican tactics during the health care debate. When Democrats tried to forge a compromise on the public option by proposing co-ops, Republicans simply balked and claimed it was “another way of saying a government plan.” Early in the health care debate, Obama put medical malpractice reform — a GOP-favored item — on the negotiating table, asking what Republicans had to offer in return. They replied that they weren’t willing to make any concessions.