As he promised last year, Barack Obama has brought climate change and healthcare reform to the centre of the nation’s attention. As well as evangelising, he is pressing Congress to act. Last week the House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill to curb carbon emissions, a measure that, if enacted, would touch every part of the US economy. Both House and Senate have drafted far-reaching healthcare bills, with stunning price tags.
Mr Obama aims to keep his promises, which is admirable. Unfortunately, there is a problem. This is not, as many Republicans argue, that neither issue requires forthright action. Both do. The problem is that the bills emerging from Congress are bad and Mr Obama does not seem to mind.
The cap-and-trade bill is a travesty. Its net effect on short- to medium-term carbon emissions will be small to none. This is by design: a law that really made a difference would make energy dearer, hurt consumers and force an economic restructuring that would be painful for many industries and their workers. Congress cannot contemplate those effects. So the Waxman-Markey bill, while going through the complex motions of creating a carbon abatement regime, takes care to neutralise itself.