POLITICO Pro: Senate Dems scramble to defend EPA
March 16, 2011
Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov
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Senate Dems scramble to defend EPA
By Darren Samuelsohn and Robin Bravender
March 15, 2011 11:24 PM EDT
Senate Democrats are scrambling to combat a GOP-led offensive against the Obama administration's climate regulations ahead of a possible Wednesday floor showdown.
In a surprising move, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled Tuesday he would allow a floor vote on a Republican amendment to nullify the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered the amendment - authored by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) - to the small-business bill pending on the floor. The language mirrors the anti-EPA bill the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed during a daylong markup Tuesday.
Now, Reid and other top Senate Democrats who oppose the amendment are looking for ways to kill it. And they may have a tougher time than they expected, given the momentum after the Energy and Commerce vote and anti-EPA sentiment among moderate Senate Democrats.
Option 1: Get the votes to defeat it
Majority Whip Dick Durbin told POLITICO that he's expecting a vote early Wednesday. Durbin didn't say how many Democrats would defect to vote in favor of the amendment, but he thinks it will fall short of the 13 needed to get to 60.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer "felt that she could defeat McConnell directly," Durbin said. "I don't know if that changed late this afternoon, but that's what she felt at lunch."
But Republicans think they've got a chance. A Senate GOP aide said Democrats appeared interested in letting it come up for a vote Tuesday night until they saw that the votes for blocking EPA were "within striking distance" of 60.
Inhofe also suggested that Democrats pushed back the vote. He said he isn't sure whether he's got the votes to clear his bill, but, "I would think somebody thinks that, or they would have had the vote, I suspect."
Durbin acknowledged the vote was canceled at the last minute. "I'm surprised it didn't" happen, he said, adding that it could have been McConnell's decision.
The delay gives the four moderate Republicans - Mark Kirk of Illinois, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, who haven't officially signed on as co-sponsors to Inhofe's bill -time to prepare.
According to POLITICO's whip count,17 Democratic votes are in play when it comes to legislation to block or delay EPA's climate rules.
Option 2: Use Rockefeller's alternative to lure away Dems
In order to siphon off Democratic votes, leadership could offer a vote on a plan from Sen. John Rockefeller to impose a two-year delay on EPA climate rules for stationary sources.
It's worked before. Just before a vote on another GOP effort to nullify EPA climate rules last summer, Democratic leadership drew moderate senators away by promising a vote on a two-year timeout from Rockefeller.
But that vote never happened, and the West Virginia Democrat offered his measure Tuesday night as an amendment to the small-business package as an alternative to the McConnell-Inhofe effort.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Rockefeller called the McConnell language an "emasculation of EPA forever."
He told POLITICO that while he didn't have a commitment from Reid to get a floor vote on his amendment, "I think this McConnell thing is so outrageous that I think that helps set up my bill."
It's unclear how Rockefeller's bill would fare on the floor. Most Republicans would favor the permanent pre-emption to the two-year timeout, but moderate Democrats may look to the Rockefeller language to offer political cover on the issue without siding with a GOP effort to permanently handcuff the agency.
Option 3: Don't hold the vote
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) - the lead sponsor of the small-business legislation pending on the floor - told reporters she's not thrilled about the McConnell rider.
"I would have hoped that we could have limited the debate to specific amendments that are actually specific to the program, Landrieu said. "But I understand that they're senators that want the opportunity to debate things that they think are very, very important. So we'll just take this a step at a time."
Unlike most of her Democratic colleagues, Landrieu supports stripping the EPA's power from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. But she also wants her small-business legislation to survive.
Adding the controversial rider won't help the bill's chances of making it through the chamber and could prompt White House opposition.
The amendment drew immediate pushback from the White House, where top officials have insisted President Barack Obama would veto a stand-alone bill to block EPA climate regulations.
"This amendment rolls back the Clean Air Act and harms Americans' health by taking away our ability to decrease air pollution," said White House spokesman Clark Stevens. "Instead of holding big polluters accountable, this amendment overrules public health experts and scientists. Finally, at a time when America's families are struggling with the cost of gasoline, the amendment would undercut fuel efficiency standards that will save Americans money at the pump while also decreasing our reliance on foreign oil."
Darren Goode contributed to this report.