Ezra Klein writes today about Nancy Pelosi and the politics of voting in the House of Representatives:
On June 26, Pelosi passed cap and trade out of the House. Many considered it a huge, unforced error. The Senate wouldn’t consider the bill for many months, if it ever took it up at all. Health-care reform was in full swing. And Pelosi had just forced her most vulnerable members to take an incredibly difficult vote.
….Talking to congressional Democrats over these past few months, Pelosi’s decision to push cap and trade came up in almost every conversation. Coaxing support from vulnerable members who hadn’t yet forgiven the leadership for cap and trade had, according to some of these sources, become one of the biggest obstacles to health-care reform.
I confess that I never understood the problem that swing-district House members had with this. If I were a vulnerable congressman, I’d want this vote taken as far before the midterm elections as possible. If it turns out to be a risky and ultimately wasted vote because the Senate doesn’t act, well, at least it was a risky vote 17 months before next November. That’s an eternity. A vote in June is a lot less likely to be a salient campaign issue than, say, a vote in December or January.
In any case, as Ezra says, Pelosi’s early vote now looks very smart: “It’s virtually impossible to imagine the House passing cap and trade in the coming months, not after the exhausting health-care reform battle and not as the midterm election draws closer.” The whole thing is now out of the way and largely forgotten unless the Senate passes a bill, and if that happens, at least House members will be voting next year on something real. It’s a lot easier to talk yourself into taking a risk for a real accomplishment than it is merely to make a quixotic point.