Ezra has a good short piece on why President Obama opted for health care reform over a climate bill, saying that the moment basically was foisted upon him. The health care coalition was broader than the climate coalition, had more institutional actors, and the Democrats in Congress were more united on the issue. Indeed, we’re seeing that to this day, as the Majority Leader in the Senate still expects a “piecemeal” approach:

“I think we are looking to a time when we can get part of this done. We can’t get everything done at once,” Reid said.

Reid acknowledged it’s a “cinch” that climate legislation won’t move this year. But he praised negotiations among some senators in recent months on plans to cap carbon from utilities.

“We have got to be able to suck it up and say I may not get all I want,” Reid said, speaking at a “clean energy” conference he co-hosted at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “We are not going to be able, as much as people want, to have a price on all carbon.”

“But why don’t we step back. We had a really good thing going,” Reid added. “The utilities are really interested in doing this because they want the certainty.”

Reid actually said that the House “needs to get real” about the limits of Senate action. One could also say that the Senate “needs to get real” about their ability to change those limits.

Reid seems to be making a nod toward a utility-only cap on carbon, which Democrats flirted with briefly this summer. But even with this narrow approach, Reid appears to be too optimistic. The carbon cap’s a dead letter, and the renewable energy standard doesn’t appear in the current bill on the table in the Senate. Meanwhile all kinds of capital investment is sitting on the sidelines while they wait to see if an RES will force a ramp-up on renewables. But there’s still not much movement there.

It’s possible to agree with Klein and others that Presidents have limits to which they can set priorities in national policy, and to say that this President, with an interest in creating a new energy future, has missed a massive opportunity. The fact that the BP oil spill came and went without a move away from the status quo architecture of the US energy system is a testament to that missed opportunity.

However, there probably isn’t even a majority in the massively distorted representation that makes up the Senate for these kinds of changes, let alone 60 votes. The Congress and particularly the Senate deserves much of the blame.