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The quiet leader on the Hill

Say someone asked you what the world’s biggest economy was. The United States, of course, you’d surely answer — maybe throwing in that China would beat it in a decade or so. The chance that you’d answer with a country from across the pond, like France? Minuscule. But if you said the European Union, you’d ...

Say someone asked you what the world’s biggest economy was. The United States, of course, you’d surely answer — maybe throwing in that China would beat it in a decade or so. The chance that you’d answer with a country from across the pond, like France? Minuscule.

But if you said the European Union, you’d also be, well, right. It’s a politically, economically, and financially unified bloc — and a big one. It has nearly 200 million more people than the United States and bests the U.S. economy by billions.

In that light, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s address to a joint session of U.S. Congress today seems a bit more weighty. She’s not just the leader of the biggest economy in Europe. She is, at least until the EU presidency is figured out, the most important leader in the EU. And during her speech on the Hill, she pushed the United States to sign on to the Copenhagen treaty next month, arguing that there’s "no time to lose" on climate change.

Alas, she told it to the U.S. political institution that cares about her entreaties least. No member of the House or Senate will get voted out or censured because Europe enacts trade measures against a United States intransigent on the carbon issue — no matter how deep the EU and United States’ ties. But a representative certainly might get voted out because of how he or she decides on cap-and-trade. 

It makes me wonder if, at some point, the world’s biggest economy might consider slapping tariffs on, well, world’s other biggest economy — with the EU, in effect, pricing in carbon on U.S. goods, rather than the United States doing it itself. It’s actuallyjust what Congress proposed to do with developing nations with lower environmental standards than the United States, in the Waxman-Markey bill…

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