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Obama resorts to 'Chicago way'

Capital Press 12/17/09


It came as no surprise that the Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had found cause to regulate carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

The timing of the announcement was also no surprise. President Barack Obama had hoped to have a climate bill in hand when delegates gathered last week in Copenhagen for the opening of the big U.N. climate conference. With that measure stalled in the Senate, the EPA's announcement gave the American delegation a necessary bit of street cred to impress European governments that have moved more aggressively on regulating carbon emissions.

The administration's decision was really aimed at a small group of Democratic senators who are holding up the bill.

Chicago gangster Al Capone used to say that he got further with a kind word and a gun than he did with just a kind word. The subtext was obvious: Do as I say or suffer the harsh consequences. There is nothing subtle about the "Chicago way."

Obama began his elected career in the rough-and-tumble wards of south Chicago, and has surrounded himself in the White House with veterans of that city's vaunted Democratic machine. Politics there is a blood sport, and policy disputes between allies and adversaries are settled as much by blunt force as diplomacy. In Obama's Chicago, strong-arm mayors are known for acting unilaterally when city council legislators fail to produce the desired results.

Copenhagen has loomed large on the horizon since his inauguration, and Obama had hoped to sign climate legislation before Labor Day. After much wrangling, the House narrowly passed its bill this summer. But the bill is hung up in the Senate, where the rules require 60 votes to end debate. While Democrats have a working 60-vote majority, not everyone is going along with the plan.

At least 15 Democrats representing states with coal, oil, energy and manufacturing interests have opposed the measure to some extent. There is also growing push back from the electorate for what will be an expensive, job-killing piece of legislation.

That's OK. Where the Senate fears to tread, Obama's EPA will go with enthusiasm.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson promised that her agency would take a common sense approach to emissions control, but said legislation would remove any "uncertainty" the regulatory process might cause. If her meaning was unclear, White House operatives were explaining to senators the impact "command-and-control" regulation might have on their home state industries.

When work on the bill resumes, it will focus on removing the "uncertainty" that might otherwise be imposed by fiat. Rather than judging the legislation on its merits, any bill -- even one worse than that proposed -- can be passed if it thwarts the draconian measures promised by the administration.

That's not the way laws were meant to be debated in a democratic republic.

That's the Chicago way.

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