Yesterday we noted Senator Schumer's optimism that Congress would act on "comprehensive immigration reform" in 2011, after the midterm elections. Now another senior Democrat, Senator Kerry, is telling Bloomberg that a cap-and-tax climate change bill may also be on the table post-election — not in 2011 but in a lame-duck session: "If it is after the election, it may well be that some members are free and liberated and feeling that they can take a risk or do something."
Some of the same points regarding immigration apply to energy. If this is such a great idea, why not do it before the election so that Democrats will be able to reap credit with voters for saving America from the risk of calamitous climate change and moving America ahead of China in the competition for clean-tech or green-tech leadership? Or make the election about the issue and seek a mandate from the voters to act in the new Congress. What Mr. Kerry is suggesting, instead, is that Congress act despite the fact that the position is unpopular with the public. There may be cases in which Congress needs to do what is right, but unpopular in polls, but it's not clear that this is one of those cases, and it's difficult to sustain a political majority in a democracy while constantly advocating, on one issue after another, this kind of "ram it through" approach of passing laws while knowing full well that they don't have the broad support of the electorate. Sooner or later, the electorate starts to feel as if its views are being ignored, and the voters get angry and send the politicians who have been ignoring them home (or to new jobs as K-Street lobbyists).
There's something almost perverse about this whole "we'll do it after the election" idea. Nearly everyone expects the Democrats to lose seats in the 2010 election. The Democrats may lose a majority in the House, and if they keep a majority in the Senate, it will be a narrower one, barring some sort of miraculous economic turnaround or other unexpected event. But we are supposed to believe nonetheless that all these Democratic legislative agenda items that they can't get passed with the large majorities they have now are going to pass after the election? If the Democratic agenda is rejected at the ballot box but the Democrats nonetheless go ahead and pass the laws in a lame duck session, it'd signal a contempt for the voters. It's almost as if Mr. Kerry were wishing there weren't elections at all, so that that the politicians could be "free and liberated" to take all the risks they want without being hampered by accountability to those pesky voters.