Administration: No regrets pushing health reform before climate

A senior adviser to President Obama said the administration has no regrets about securing healthcare legislation before a broad climate and energy plan this Congress.
Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, acknowledged that prioritizing healthcare made it more difficult to get an energy and climate plan passed on Capitol Hill.

But she said healthcare was a topic voters frequently talked about during the presidential campaign in 2008.
“One of the things that we heard consistently, whether it was from families, individuals, whether it was from the private sector, was that we had to deal with the issue of healthcare,” Barnes said at a Wednesday forum hosted by The Atlantic magazine.

Barnes — who was on the trail with Obama’s team from the primary through Election Day — said healthcare tapped into concerns about the economy and jobs, creating more certainty for businesses and allowing them to compete globally.

“But that’s also why we were trying to push healthcare and push energy at the same time,” she said. “We really felt like it was a walk and talk, walk and chew gum” scenario, she said.
But healthcare reform was clearly a higher White House priority, and it is widely believed that the push to secure victory on that front doomed any chance for broad climate and energy legislation this Congress — and through at least the next two years as well.
Barnes acknowledged that signing the massive healthcare bill into law has created more obstacles for completing energy and climate legislative talks.
“The country taking in and absorbing big pieces of legislation that we’ve already passed like the healthcare bill … will affect the environment and how we proceed forward on energy legislation,” she said.
“At the same time the president feels that it’s critical that we move forward, and whether it is through legislation that would set up a big comprehensive framework … there are still other ways that we can advance this energy agenda,” she said.

Obama recently said that energy and climate legislation in the next Congress may have to be tackled in "chunks," acknowledging a single, sweeping bill is unlikely to move. The administration is using its existing powers to address greenhouse gas emissions in the meantime.

Emissions rules for power plants and refineries are slated to begin taking effect next year. EPA and the Transportation Department proposed first-time emissions and mileage standards for heavy trucks this week, and have already completed rules for passenger cars and SUVs.