Strassel: The Cap-and-Trade Crackup
October 8, 2010
Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov
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The Wall Street Journal
The Cap-and-Trade Crackup
A Virginia Democrat with a 'safe' seat angers constituents with his anti-coal vote.
By Kimberley A. Strassel
October 8, 2010
Even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi twisted arms for the final votes to pass her climate bill in June 2009, Democrats feared they might be "BTU'd." Many of them recalled how Al Gore had forced the House to vote in 1993 for an energy tax, a vote Democrats later blamed for helping their 1994 defeat.
The politics isn't the same this time around. This time, it's much, much worse.
Ask Rick Boucher, the coal-country Democrat who for nearly 30 years has represented southwest Virginia's ninth district. The 64-year-old is among the most powerful House Democrats, an incumbent who hasn't been seriously challenged since the early 1980s. Mr. Boucher has nonetheless worked himself onto this year's list of vulnerable Democrats. He managed it with one vote: support for cap and trade.
Anger over the BTU tax was spread across the country in 1994; the tax hit everything, even nuclear and hydropower. And the anger was wrapped into general unhappiness with Clinton initiatives. Some Democrats who voted for BTU but otherwise distanced themselves from the White House were spared. Mr. Boucher, for instance.
Cap and trade is different. The bill is designed to crush certain industries, namely coal. As coal-state voters have realized this, the vote has become a jobs issue, and one that is explosive. It is no accident that Democrats face particularly tough terrain in such key electoral states as Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana. They are being laser-targeted for their votes to kill home-state industries.
In Ohio, billboards have shown Democrats John Boccieri and Zack Space as puppets, manipulated into voting for the "National Energy tax." Kentucky Republican Andy Barr demands Democratic Rep. Ben Chandler explain his vote to cost his state 35,000 jobs. Indiana Rep. Baron Hill is on defense against Republican Todd Young's point that cap and trade would hit coal- consuming states like Indiana hardest, raising Hoosier energy bills by $1,800 a year.
Even no-voting Democrats aren't safe. GOP candidate Spike Maynard accuses West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall's party of waging a "war on coal" through the Obama EPA's greenhouse restrictions, and equally toxic EPA rules to kill surface mining.
Nowhere is this attack more pronounced that in Mr. Boucher's district. It isn't a natural home for a Democrat; John McCain won it with 59% of the vote. Mr. Boucher has held it for 14 terms by keeping tight with local mining unions, delivering pork, and carefully tending to the district's culturally conservative leanings. He voted for the Iraq War; he gets top grades from the NRA. (It was his opposition to the Clinton "assault" weapons ban that helped him in 1994.) He beat his 2006 opponent with 68% of the vote. The GOP didn't bother in 2008.
Mr. Boucher felt so invulnerable that last year he made the mindboggling decision to join with green purists to craft the cap-and-trade dagger aimed at his own district-home to thousands of coal jobs. He is a powerful member on the House Energy Committee, and his support helped pull along other reluctant Democrats, earning him a shout out from the White House. It also earned him a target on his back.
Republican Morgan Griffith, the 52-year-old Virginia House majority leader, has so successfully made Mr. Boucher's cap-and-trade vote an issue that he's moved the race into toss-up territory. In ads, at campaign stops and in discussions with coal miners, Mr. Griffith taps into public unease over unemployment and pounds away at the Democrat's vote to make it worse by "killing coal jobs."
Splashed across the district are signs that cry out: "Boucher Betrayed Coal." The free-market Americans for Job Security has been up with ads blaming Mr. Boucher for putting Mrs. Pelosi's "job killing agenda ahead of Virginia coal." The National Republican Campaign Committee's TV spot, called "Big Numbers," states: "56,000: the jobs Virginia could lose thanks to Boucher's cap-and-trade plan."
Mr. Boucher sensed danger earlier this year and has run right: He voted against ObamaCare and has a newfound love for Bush tax cuts. But he's in a defensive crouch on the main issue, reduced to excuses for his cap-and-trade vote. A top one is the old chestnut that he got involved to make the bill better. He points to money he had inserted for "clean coal," and has somehow spun his work into an ad claiming he "took on his own party" to "protect coal jobs" in the, ahem, "energy" bill.
Yet as the race has tightened, the Boucher campaign has looked more desperate. It nitpicked the Americans for Job Security ad and demanded TV stations pull it. The union bosses for United Mine Workers of America had to step up, inviting Mr. Boucher to keynote a picnic to try to shore up coal workers. He's newly passionate about reining in an anti-coal EPA.
Mr. Boucher appears to still lead, but with a GOP wave building, no Democrat with an anti-job vote against his own constituents is safe. Virginia's ninth has already delivered one of the lessons of 2010: Cap-and-trade policy is terrible. Cap-and-trade politics is deadly.