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F@#% the politics: Leadership opportunity available!

<y concerned over last week’s apparent suspension of climate bill efforts in the Senate because of a decision by Senate authority figures and the White House to push Immigration reform right now instead. From everything I’ve heard, this decision seems purely political: coming into November, Democrats need a mobilized Hispanic voting bloc to come out for them at the ballot box, especially Harry Reid in Nevada. In addition, the immigration reforms recently passed in Arizona make the Federal Government look very bad because this is supposed to be an issue dealt with nationally. With no other big legislative items close to unveiling, I could understand the decision to begin a national conversation and debate about how to effectively and responsibly deal with our illegal immigration problems.

However, this is not the case. Dealing with climate change by pricing carbon, spurring green innovation, and ending our dependence on foreign oil was supposed to be one of President Obama’s major initiatives.  Furthermore, it is an absolute blessing that Senator Lindsey Graham (R. SC) is co-leading the legislative process with Sens. Lieberman (I. CT) and Kerry (D. MA). The trio was poised to release their legislative plan that they believed would garner bipartisan support on last Monday. They didn’t because of Graham’s frustration and decision to suspend efforts when he got wind of the priority on immigration.

Pushing immigration legislation now is a huge mistake for the Obama administration. After a very partisan and polarizing health care debate that took over a year to complete, the passage of bipartisan financial and energy reform would go a long way towards helping Democrats in the long term with independents, a boost that would be much more helpful than the Hispanic boost after an attempt at immigration reform. Furthermore, were Obama to find himself in the position later in the Summer of having passed both climate and financial sector legislation, he will have gained much more independent support after back to back bipartisan efforts and fostered a more fertile Senate environment for dealing with a tough issue like immigration.

Additionally, the oil spill really creates the chance to push energy reform now, and should create the sense of urgency and political pressure needed to pass a bipartisan bill; this spill has created a crisis that gives Washington a real opportunity for change. This is a very good leadership opportunity for Obama and Congress because the reasons for energy reform are clear as day to the nation, a luxury Democrats did not enjoy during the health reform process. Stopping the oil leak is just the acute phase of Obama’s crisis leadership, it is just a technical challenge. The adaptive challenge we as a country face, the one that requires an act of leadership and not simply authorities with expertise, is our addiction to oil. Currently, the country is feeling a lot of discomfort and panic over the oil spill as it gets larger and spreads towards land. Although a halt to the leak is essential in the short term, Obama must put his weight behind the bill in the Senate and remind the American people that the leak is not the whole problem, it is only a symptom of a larger illness: our oil addiction. He must keep the pressure on the nation that the work is just beginning with a halt of the leak and clean up of the spilled oil, the real work will be weaning us as a nation off of oil and towards more sustainable sources of energy.

I know that Obama is probably being pulled by very strong people in the Democratic Party to go for immigration reform now, but it would be much better for him and Democrats long term to get climate legislation done first. Then maybe later we would actually get immigration reform, not just the politicized, half-assed and premature effort that we might see now.

-David Heifetz is a Carletonian columnist.

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