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Is Congress Overloaded?

Earlier this year people were warning the Obama team that Congress didn't have the bandwidth to handle several major issues at once. But it's looking like the issue may not be bandwidth so much as the political juice it takes to fight a bunch of grueling policy battles in a short period of time. Says the WaPo:

[A]s they forge ahead, some lawmakers -- particularly the roughly 80 House Democrats elected in the past three years -- are suffering from political fatigue. By the time the three House committees took up health care a month ago, the chamber had already logged nearly 600 votes and approved at least 40 major bills. It also had just survived a bruising debate over creating a cap-and-trade system to curtail climate change, which produced a 219 to 212 victory for Pelosi.

The climate-change win was initially cast as a major Pelosi victory, because of her investment in securing the necessary votes.

Now, however, a significant bloc of Democrats is balking at moving to the health-care debate so soon after a vote that many freshman and sophomore lawmakers consider the most controversial they have cast. Some even fear that the climate-change vote has put health-care reform, a far greater priority for many Democrats, in grave danger.

"I don't know whose decision it was to put cap-and-trade first, but it was a huge mistake," said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a conservative leader on the Energy and Commerce Committee. "It's a divisive issue. I felt like we had the opportunity to do one thing before the August recess . . . and everybody agrees we need to reform health care."

Pelosi defended her decision. "A number of the people who are having a problem now didn't vote for the climate bill," she said. Those include Ross, a leader of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition.

But freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D), who represents rural parts of central and southern Virginia, voted for the cap-and-trade bill and is urging leadership to give him time to vet the health-care package with his constituents. "You want to come up with your best ideas and take them out on the road and make them better," he said, adding that the climate vote had already "unleashed a full range of emotions" back home.

One can argue that it would have made sense to postpone the climate change debate until health care was done. The problem is, of course, that health care promises to be an even bloodier fight, and passing cap and trade might not have been possible in its aftermath.

Ultimately I'd say it would have been better to wait on climate change for a few months--if only to let the economy pick up steam and de-fang recession-based arguments against the bill.  

--Michael Crowley