Obama's EPA Regs Reward Republican Obstructionism

| Wed Jun. 4, 2014 10:40 AM EDT

Jamelle Bouie thinks Republicans are shooting themselves in the feet with their mindless obstructionism:

If Republicans are outraged by the announcement, they only have themselves to blame....In 2009, President Obama threw his support behind climate legislation in the House, and the following year, a group of Senate Democrats—including Kerry—began work with Republicans to craft a bipartisan climate bill. The process fell apart, a victim of bad management from the White House, election year politics, an embattled and fearful Sen. Lindsay Graham—the South Carolina senator at the center of the negotiations—and the growing tide of Republican anti-Obama sentiment, which would culminate that fall with a huge GOP victory in the House of Representatives.

....With a little cooperation, Republicans could have won a better outcome for their priorities. They could have exempted coal from more stringent spectrum of regulations, enriched their constituencies with new subsidies and benefits, and diluted a key Democratic priority. Instead, they’ll now pay a steep substantive price for their obstruction, in the form of rules that are tougher—and more liberal—than anything that could have passed Congress.

I think this misreads Republican priorities. Sure, they care about the details of the regulations. And sure, they knew perfectly well that Obama had threatened to act via the EPA if Congress failed to pass a bill. But neither of those were things they cared all that much about.

Note the bolded sentence above. What Republicans really care about is winning elections.1 They were pretty sure that cooperating on a cap-and-trade bill would hurt them in the 2010 midterms, and they were probably right about that. It wasn't a popular bill, and they would have been forced to take partial credit for it if it had passed. Instead, they were able to run a clean, rage-filled campaign against Obummercare, cap-and-tax, and the pork-ocrat "stimulus" bill. As I recall, that worked out pretty well for them.

And what price did they pay? Well, now the EPA is proposing regs that are....maybe slightly worse than the original cap-and-trade bill, but not all that much, really. Policy-wise, then, they've lost at most a smidgen but no more.2 And guess what? There's another midterm coming up! This is all perfectly timed from the Republican point of view. They get to run hard against yet another lawless-Obama-job-killing-socialist-war-on-coal-executive-tyranny program. What's not to like?

1Democrats too, in case you're keeping score at home. Libertarians not so much.

2It's worth noting that they have Obama's relentless technocratic pragmatism to thank for this. If Obama had really wanted to punish Republican constituencies for opposing the cap-and-trade bill, he could have proposed a bunch of command-and-control mandates that would have hit red states and the coal industry in the gut. If Obama were truly the business-hating socialist tyrant of their fever dreams, that's what he would have done. Instead, he proposed regulations that were as flexible and efficient as possible within the restrictions of the Clean Air Act. That's why, in the end, Republican obstructionism didn't really hurt them that much.