Politico: Senate panel faces partisan climate war
October 30, 2009
Posted by Matt Dempsey firstname.lastname@example.org
In the News...
Senate panel faces partisan climate war
By: Lisa Lerer
October 30, 2009 06:06 PM EST
Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) was expected to move forward with her bill on Friday, even as all seven Republicans on the committee threatened to boycott any mark-up hearing held next week.
Republicans say that EPW rules prohibit Boxer from holding a mark-up without two Republicans present. Democratic aides for Boxer and other members indicated that they had found a way around that rule, saying that they expected to proceed with the hearing on Tuesday, even if Republicans don't attend.
"The Senator is going to use all the tools at her disposal," said one Boxer aide.
The boycott, led by the committee's two most moderate Republican members, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, illustrates the difficulty for Democrats in getting significant bipartisan backing for their climate bill - even among Republican lawmakers who support taking action to combat climate change.
"I'm willing to work with the people on the other side of the aisle but if you jam this thing through here, it's not going to be good," Voinovich said on Thursday.
So far, the Obama administration has largely failed to attract significant Republican backing for their major initiatives like health care and the economic stimulus package.
On climate, the two parties are battling over a handful of Republicans who might support a bill, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, of Maine.
The Republican leadership sees cap and trade as an issue that could severely hurt Democratic chances in the midterm elections and they're pressuring their members to vote against the bill to keep their caucus as united as possible.
Democrats will need Republican votes to pass a bill to offset possible losses within their own party. Prominent moderate Democrats like Sens. Max Baucus, of Montana, Blanche Lincoln, of Arkansas, and Byron Dorgan, of North Dakota, have raised a long list of concerns about the bill. And at least some Democratic supporters expect them to lose the votes of Sens. Ben Nelson, of Nebraska, and Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said on Friday that a cap and trade bill could not pass the Senate this Congress.
"I haven't been able to sell that argument to my farmers, and I don't think they're going to buy it from anybody else," Nelson told CNBC on Friday.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry is working with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham to build Republican support for the legislation by dangling provisions like increasing domestic oil exploration and expanding the use of nuclear power.
But so far, other Republicans have yet to publically voice strong support for a climate bill.
Arizona Republican John McCain, who's co-sponsored several versions of his 2003 climate bill, has made clear that it will be difficult for him to support the Boxer-Kerry proposal without significantly greater commitments on nuclear power.
McCain told POLITICO that he's spoken with Kerry about his requirements and the Democrat is "not ready to do that."
Alexander has vocally opposed Boxer's legislation - a stance some Democratic aides attribute to his position in the Republican Senate leadership. Although he is pushing hard for electric cars, expanded nuclear power, and renewable energy, Alexander believes the Kerry-Boxer bill will hurt economic growth.
Voinovich has spent months requesting additional analysis of the bill. Voinovich's reputation for bipartisan deal making and concerns about climate change had raised hopes that the retiring senator could be in play. But his aides say it is unlikely that he'll be able to support this legislation, blaming his opposition on a fast-tracked committee procedure.
But Boxer says that she spoke with both Alexander and Voinovich several months ago and they were unwilling to work with her on the bill. She dismissed the Republican opposition as political maneuvering used to delay Senate action.
Last year, she partnered with Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, who's since retired, to pass climate legislation through the committee.
"I had a partner in John Warner but I have nobody else," said Boxer. "These Republicans on this committee are really more of the party of no. They are not interested in tackling this problem at all."
All seven Republicans on the committee met late Thursday night on the Senate floor and agreed to boycott the mark-up hearing. They want more a more through analysis of the legislation completed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Voinovich first requested an EPA analysis of the House climate bill after it passed in late June, but says he was turned down because the agency wanted to wait until the Senate bill was released.
To put pressure on the agency, Voinovich placed a hold on the nomination of Robert Perciasepe, the White House's nominee for the number two position at the EPA.
The agency released a short analysis of the bill last week, and has agreed to run a fuller study - a process that Administrator Lisa Jackson said in committee hearings on Tuesday will take at least five weeks.
Voinovich and the other Republicans would like Boxer to wait at least that long.
Ranking Republican member Inhofe cited the two years of negotiations over former President George W. Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, where he says Republicans postponed the mark-up several times as Democrats pushed for more information. Inhofe also struggled to get enough support for the legislation during that same period, as Republicans then held a very narrow margin on the committee.
"That was a very deliberative process and I think we need to be somewhat deliberative," he said.
But Boxer noted that the EPA conducted a more through analysis of the House bill, and her legislation borrows heavily from that legislation.
"Their objections don't pass the smell test," she said. "It seems to me they just want to delay this and delay it so we don't make progress."