What Comes After Health Care?

Conventional wisdom says the White House domestic agenda line-up looks something like this: (1) Health care reform; (2) Climate change reform; (3) Financial regulation reform; (4) Immigration reform. But via Mickey Kaus, Nate Silver has a different idea:

Although the unpopularity of the cap-and-trade program is greatly exaggerated -- most polls in fact show it receiving a plurality or narrow majority of support -- the swing districts in 2010 tend to be big carbon emitters. Immigration reform, likewise, is liable to be a less favorable issue for the Democrats in 2010 than it will be in 2012, when we'll have a younger, more diverse electorate in which Hispanics play a larger role as swing voters. EFCA -- the White House's support for which has always been questionable -- almost certainly isn't going anywhere. Movement on gay rights issues is a possibility, but is more dependent on the White House's willpower than its bandwidth. A second omnibus stimulus bill is probably out of the question, although certainly there will be piecemeal efforts -- extended unemployment benefits, greater investments in transportation infrastructure -- that the White House will pursue. Still, for a hard-working White House, that leaves plenty of time on the table for a big-ticket item, and that item will probably be banking reform.

I remain convinced that despite my tepid support for climate change reform, CCR will be a hog. One immutable law of politics is that people don't like taxes, even if they're for extremely concrete purposes, like higher property taxes paying for your child's education. Cap-and-trade amounts to a tax on energy consumption for the conceptional purpose of bringing down this invisible thing called "emissions." There's barely a majority of Americans who think the world is warming now; fewer probably think we can do something about it; and even fewer will be willing to pay for it. Energy companies, the Chamber of Commerce and Republicans will all tie anchors to public support by criticizing -- along a spectrum of honesty -- cap-and-trade's cost and impact on climate. There's simply very little reason to think cap-and-trade will help the administration build political capital for future reform battles.

Now compare with financial regulation. Popular anger at the banks these days is like the moon cycle -- it waxes and wanes through the weeks but every month seems to bring some full dramatic display of populist anger, whether toward the bonuses or the profits or the scandals or some unforeseen lightening rod. That's why Republicans are more likely to go attach themselves to financial reform that any other. Certainly some of them will argue for less regulation, accuse Obama of trying to take over the banking industry, and so on and so forth. But others will smell political advantage by teaming with the White House to prove to their constituents that they're 'on the people's side.' The path toward financial reform offers fewer potholes and more room to build alliances heading toward other reform challenges in climate change and immigration.