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Cap and Trade May Have to Wait Until Next Year

With each passing day, cap and trade legislation in the United States looks more likely to become a bystander casualty of the political fight over healthcare reform. The country's voter base has become agitated, feeling that too much change is happening at once.

Democrats whose offices are at stake are taking the warning to heart, unsettling the narrow 60-member coalition. One of the most vulnerable points is Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat. The New York Times:

Ms. Lincoln, a rice farmer's daughter, has already broken with her party on several important measures. While she voted for the stimulus package and the rescue of the financial system, she opposed the reauthorization of the banking infusion and the carmakers' bailout. She also opposes a Democratic initiative to help workers unionize and the House's cap-and-trade legislation to reduce industrial emissions...

Ms. Lincoln told her audiences last week that the Finance Committee would not rush the process. That, she said, was the advice she was hearing from constituents.

Lincoln, who became nationally famous recently for calling healthcare protestors "un-American", is talking about the health care bill when she says she won't rush. But energy and cap-and-trade could certainly be included in the statement; many voters with an objection to one also have concerns about the other. She also recently told Bloomberg that pairing healthcare and cap and trade is "too big of a lift".

With this weak point to attack, Republican senators should have their work cut out in getting cap and trade delayed. But it's not clear whether a wait would ultimately hurt or help the bill.

Having to hold off would look like a loss for the Obama administration, and give industries more time to lobby against strong measures. But Europe may come up with evidence of success with its own cap and trade program, and China is moving ahead with strong renewable energy programs, so international pressure could conceivably change the playing field by the time the issue comes up again.