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What the PA-12 Special Election Says About Cap and Trade

by Michael Levi
May 19, 2010

The special election to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D) was, as Politico notes, the only House race last night that really matterered to both parties. Democrat Mark Critz decisively beat Republican Tim Burns in a district that voted for John McCain in 2008. Good news for Democrats – but a bad sign on cap and trade.

PA-12 is coal country: it houses two of the largest coal mines in the world. It is also home to a substantial steel industry. This is not naturally friendly ground for cap and trade. But cap and trade will never become law by simply collecting naturally friendly votes – there just aren’t enough of them. That’s why Murtha’s vote in favor of Waxman-Markey mattered – it was a sign (albeit a year ago) that the political winds were blowing the right way.

Critz, in contrast, came out decisively against cap and trade in order to win his race. That didn’t stop his opponent from running ads claiming that he actually  supported cap and trade (through guilt by association with Nancy Pelosi). But the media seemed to faithfully report his real position. If hard-to-get Democrats feel compelled to oppose cap and trade in districts where members have recently supported it, that is not a good sign for legislation.

There is also an element of hard math here. If Kerry-Lieberman was to somehow pass in the Senate, it would still need to get through the House. Waxman-Markey passed the House with 219 votes. Mark Kirk (R-IL) voted yes; he now says he’d vote no. Murtha voted yes; Critz says he’d vote no. 217 votes isn’t enough to pass a bill. To be fair, several members who voted no the first time around might be persuaded to vote yes if their votes mattered. (Dennis Kucinich, who waited until the bill had 218 votes before voting no, is an obvious candidate.) The Senate bill is also more moderate. Regardless, though, the signs are not good for those who want to see a cap and trade bill soon.

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