Harold Ford, Jr. on Climate Change Legislation

August 25th, 2009

Hope for Cap-and-Trade?

The Washington Post asked politicians, academics and others whether the health-care debate has made it unlikely that climate change legislation will be passed in the near future.

Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council

President Obama can pass energy legislation this year, but to do so he needs to absorb four lessons from the health-reform debate.

First, write the bulk of the energy bill with the input of Congress. Despite recent dips, Obama's favorable ratings are high enough to enact reform. Having served in Congress, I respect and admire the Democratic leadership, but the country wants the president to lead on his top priorities.

Second, he should own energy. He did as a candidate; he should as president. Control the debate and don't lose control. The country voted for change; give it to them. Regrettably, the health-reform debate has been about “death panels” and “higher taxes,” instead of real talk of insurance reform, cost containment, more access for those who don't have insurance and incentives for preventive care. Obama needs to seize the debate and make it about fewer wars over oil, lower gas and electricity prices, and more jobs for Americans.

Third, settle on better language than “cap and trade” and climate change. These abstract labels don't resonate in Kansas. Some analysts have projected that the House energy reform bill will cost each U.S. household $175 a year. That's a small price to prevent today's 13- and 14-year-olds from having to go to war in the Middle East in 10 years to protect oil, which we should drastically reduce our dependence on.

Finally, lead by example. Get on the road and sell energy reform. Practice conservation in the White House. Launch a national competition in public schools that encourages energy conservation. And tell the country why this is important to keep America safe and growing.