CLIMATE:

28 senators rebuke fast-track budget move on emissions bill

A White House-led push to move global warming legislation in the Senate without having to deal with an expected GOP filibuster has drawn opposition from 28 senators, including seven Democrats and several moderate Republicans.

Critics of using the budget reconciliation process as a vehicle for President Obama's cap-and-trade plan weighed in with a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Budget Committee, saying the fast-track strategy should not be used for something as complex as a climate bill.

"Enactment of a cap-and-trade regime is likely to influence nearly every feature of the U.S. economy," the senators wrote. "Legislation so far-reaching should be fully vetted and given appropriate time for debate, something the budget reconciliation process does not allow. Using this procedure would circumvent normal Senate practice and would be inconsistent with the administration's stated goals of bipartisanship, cooperation, and openness."

Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) led a signature drive that included several notable moderate lawmakers from both parties who have long been considered critical to passage of a climate bill. They include Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Carol Browner, Obama's top energy and climate adviser, has been quietly pressing Democrats on Capitol Hill to consider using the budget reconciliation strategy out of concern that a cap-and-trade bill could not otherwise win 60 votes. Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he is still considering the controversial budget strategy and questioned the premise that he does not have the 51 votes necessary to pass the legislation with the climate language included (Greenwire, March 12).

In a brief interview while on Capitol Hill today, Browner did not respond directly to a question about her pursuit of the budget reconciliation approach. "We have no comment on the process," she said. "We are working to get the president's budget passed. We are not talking about the process at this point. We are working with members of Congress to get the budget passed."

An oil industry lobbyist critical of the budget approach warned Democrats, including Reid, to expect retaliation at the ballot box in November 2010 if they bypass regular order to move the cap-and-trade bill. "Should they abuse the legislative process further to jam things like climate change, I would expect to see GOP campaign war chests swell in all the open races, plus one rather close contest in Nevada," the industry source said.

Click here to view the senators' letter.

Senior reporter Ben Geman contributed.

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