Senators who were previously close to signing onto his health care package are hesitating for several reasons, but it mostly revolves around cost.
That’s not just worry about the overall price tag, but also a question of how much Congress should set aside in the American family budget for putting a price on carbon at the same time. If businesses (and consumers that buy products from those companies) will all soon pay more for health care, can they also afford to pay more for gasoline and electricity?
Set aside the fact that we already pay for the 50 million people in the U.S. with no health insurance, but do so through emergency rooms and because of acute problems that could have been solved sooner/cheaper if those patients had been covered by health insurance.
Also set aside that we pay for carbon pollution already, in terms of higher health care costs, defending oil production around the globe and the impacts of climate change to name a few of the costs, but we don’t make those payments at the gas pump or electric meter. Let’s stipulate that transitioning to a more transparent, logical system of paying for these things might actually save money, but will be a shock to consumers in the near term as the payer/payee balance shifts.
Because of that potential short-term shock, it appears that U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern has made belligerent noises about China, not because he doesn’t think a deal can be struck, but to send a message to Congress that we won’t sign a deal that imposes a high cost for carbon right away. But without knowing the future cost of carbon, Congress may be reluctant to pass a costly health care bill—and vice versa.
During the Bush administration, it was a game between the US and China of “you go first”, which has now been replaced by a domestic U.S game of “which comes first?” China has also balked at accepting international standards for verifying carbon reductions. How can Obama break this carbon Gordian Knot? Very easily, actually.