By Phil KerpenPolicy Director, Americans for Prosperity

Will the Senate Budget Committee use budget reconciliation for cap-and-trade? It sounds obscure but it's the trillion dollar question. Committee Chairman Kent Conrad has not sworn off using a process called "reconciliation" to help pass the biggest tax hike in U.S. history, the cap-and-trade energy tax. Reconciliationis part of the budget process that makes it easier to achieve deficit-reduction goals by making changes to taxes and entitlement policy-but it can also be abused to make major policy changes.

Putting cap-and-trade in reconciliation would be a procedural short cut that would allow it to pass in the full Senate without proper debate and with just 50 votes needed instead of the usual 60 votes. On this issue, with 60 votes required, it's a dog fight. With 50, it's a relative walk in the park for Harry Reid and his high-tax allies, including President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Fortunately, the man most likely to decide the path forward, Kent Conrad, comes from the coal state of North Dakota.

Obama told The San Francisco Chronicle last year: 'So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted.'

It's in his hands because he's the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, which will write the 2010 budget bill and the reconciliation instructions. He's been waffling lately, though he most likely leans against reconciliation. Yesterday he received a letter from 28 senators, including 7 Democrats, who make a great argument against reconciliation:

"Enactment of a cap-and-trade regime is likely to influence nearly every feature of the U.S. economy. Legislation so far-reaching should be fully vetted and given appropriate time for debate, something the budget reconciliation process does not allow. Using this procedure would circumvent normal Senate practice and would be inconsistent with the Administration's stated goals of bipartisanship, cooperation, and openness."

The letter was put together by powerful West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd, the dean of the Democratic Caucus.

The other Democrats on the letter are Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Carl Levin of Michigan, Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Robert Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania.

But Conrad is also certainly being pressured by the other side, including Reid himself, who today said he may want to use reconciliation to bypass an expected filibuster. He is also likely to come under serious pressure from Obama, Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and the huge army of environmental special interest groups. White House Energy Czar Carol Browner has reportedly already been up on the Hill urging Senate Democrats to use reconciliation.

If Conrad seriously considers the implications of the cap-and-trade tax for his own state, then it should be an easy decision. North Dakota is an energy producing state, producing oil, gas, and most significantly -- coal.

Obama told The San Francisco Chronicle last year:

"So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

That's why Byrd-from the coal state of West Virginia-is in the lead stopping the procedural short-cut reconciliation path. For the sake of every American who's an energy consumer-and that's all of us-let's hope that fellow coal-state Democrat Kent Conrad follows his lead.

Mr. Kerpen is director of policy for Americans for Prosperity

Phil Kerpen is the founder of American Commitment Action Fund, on the web at www.BookerFAIL.com.