Obama Fails to Steer New Energy Policy to Passage, Some Democrats Complain

Senate Democrats, who are considering several versions of energy legislation, were looking to President Obama to give some clear direction Tuesday night in his speech from the Oval Office, but some complained to their allies Wednesday that they didn’t get it.

"I think the White House message to the Senate last night was ‘you're on your own, you guys sort this out,'" said Bill Gaston, a former domestic policy adviser for President Clinton.

Galston says there are only six weeks of legislative sessions before the fall election, and with competing issues, including confirmation hearings for a new Supreme Court justice, the Senate is desperate for strong leadership.

But some Democrats complain that the President Obama only muddied the waters by giving a nod to several different approaches. To some, this poses a setback for passing a bill this year.

Passage “may have been torpedoed altogether, by the president's refusal to come down firmly on one side or the other last night,” Galston said. “The White House is trying to keep its options open, and in so doing I think in this instance is sowing confusion."

Obama campaigned on and made an early push for what is called "cap and trade,” which puts a cap on the total amount of carbon emissions and charges a tax for anything over that.

On Tuesday, Obama pointed to a House bill that would do just that:

“Last year, the House of Representatives acted on these principles by passing a strong and comprehensive energy and climate bill,” Obama said Tuesday in his first Oval Office address to the nation.

The Waxman-Markey bill squeaked through the House a year ago, but senators of both parties say it has no chance of getting through the Senate.

“Of course that's the cap-and-trade bill which passed the House, which can't pass the Senate,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said.

And many Democrats agree; the bill has no chance in the Senate.

Sen. Joe Lieberman is co-sponsoring a different bill with Sen. John Kerry, which he says is more moderate than the House bill.

“It has broader business community support and broader environmental community support. And, that's why we think it has better chance of passage overall,” Lieberman said Wednesday in a press conference.