NYT – Could Barbour be voice of anti cap & tax movement?

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour jumped back into the climate debate yesterday, seemingly eager to face the wrath of environmentalists.

The longtime Republican leader and possible 2012 presidential candidate starred as the key GOP witness at the first Senate hearing on the issue since the House narrowly passed a major global warming bill last month. Following the path of recent Republican vocalizers like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and ex-Sen. George Allen of Virginia, Barbour summed up the plan as an economic catastrophe.

“It is hard to believe that at a time when growing our economy is our No. 1 priority, Congress is considering a bill that would reduce economic growth,” Barbour said. The Senate has yet to introduce its version of a mandatory greenhouse gas cap, but Democratic leaders said recently that they would build on the House bill.

Barbour’s role as the GOP testifier-of-the-day comes as the party seeks a central voice on climate change. GOP members speaking out on the subject recently range from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who called the House plan “imperialism,” to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who praised the proposal. That measure, sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.), would curb emissions 17 percent by 2020 via a mandatory cap on greenhouse gases. It squeaked through the chamber on a 219-212 vote in June.

Republicans are navigating through treacherous waters on climate change politically, according to some analysts. They need campaign ammunition heading into 2010 congressional elections, but also risk being seen as obstructionists if they push back against climate controls too much, they say.