The Senate global warming debate appears headed for a partisan standoff early next week with Republicans threatening to boycott a key committee vote and Democrats weighing their options on an alternative route to advance the bill to the floor.
Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said yesterday that she is planning to hold a markup Tuesday on S. 1733, a bill that seeks to curb domestic greenhouse gas emissions across much of the U.S. economy.
But Boxer cannot hold the markup unless at least two Republicans show up, and EPW ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) signaled that he has unanimous support among the panel's minority members to boycott the session until they get more data on the legislation from U.S. EPA and the Congressional Budget Office.
Inhofe said he will wait for Boxer to file an official notice of the markup -- expected today -- before responding with his own declaration of the GOP's markup strategy.
"As soon as we find out what her announcement is and what she wants to do, we'll have our response," Inhofe told E&E last night. "We'll have our unanimous expression ready."
For her part, Boxer insisted that she would not back down from the markup, and she even opened the door to alternative approaches for moving the bill, including the use of Senate Rule 14 that allows the majority to discharge legislation out of a committee and bring it directly to the floor.
"We're going forward," Boxer said. "We're going to do our job. We're going to use every tool at our disposal to get this done."
Partisan tension on the EPW Committee stretches back more than a decade, but recent battles between the two parties have been especially tense when it comes to debate over climate policy (E&E Daily, Sept. 29).
Lawmakers repeatedly raised their voice at each other during three days of hearings this week on the climate bill, with Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) complaining yesterday that Boxer had been unfairly chiming in after any remarks that did not square with her point of view.
"You're editorializing on my comments, as you do everyone else's comments," Voinovich said just moments after seizing on testimony earlier this week from U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson where the Obama official acknowledged the agency did not do a specific set of modeling runs on the Senate bill. Jackson said it would take four to five more weeks to do such a review.
Boxer replied that she is satisfied with the EPA analysis Jackson released last Friday. "This is the longest study there is," she said, noting that it included a two-week review of the Senate proposal, as well as the findings from a five-week review that the agency took this spring to analyze H.R. 2454, the House-passed climate bill.
Combined, Boxer said the two bills are 90 percent similar, leaving little reason to dive deeper before the markup. "We're not going to waste taxpayer money because someone drew a line in the sand," she said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) called the threat of a GOP boycott "theatrics."
As for the merits of the Republicans' request, Whitehouse argued, "I think the notion that absolute exactitude before the bill goes in, when the EPA has come so close to figuring out its economic effects, doesn't make any sense in light of the fact the amendment process is going to move the results around more than the level of uncertainty that exists right now."
But Voinovich said that he wanted to have the EPA analysis, as well as a CBO review, to help him prepare for the markup. "The fact of the matter is, the complete analysis gives you a much better idea of what kind of amendments you ought to be working on," he said.
To make their case, Republicans went back into the history books to find other examples of the Senate committee delaying its work to get more information from EPA.
Inhofe cited the two-year buildup that led to a tie 9-9 vote on former President George W. Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, which would have overhauled the Clean Air Act without setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The GOP held a narrow Senate majority during the Clear Skies debate, but Inhofe as EPW Committee chairman could not convince then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) or any Democrats to vote for the bill, including then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois (E&E Daily, March 10, 2003).
The Bush-led EPA produced more than 10,000 pages of analysis on the air pollution bill, but Inhofe insisted that he still postponed the March 2005 markup several times as Democrats pushed for more information.
Senate Democrats did boycott for two weeks the 2003 confirmation of Michael Leavitt, who was nominated -- and eventually confirmed -- to be the U.S. EPA administrator (Greenwire, Oct. 1, 2003).
Across Capitol Hill, House Republicans earlier this year considered a number of different approaches to stall consideration of that climate bill, including forcing the clerk of the Energy and Commerce Committee to read the entire bill aloud.
Anticipating such a move, Democrats hired a speed reader. But Republicans instead opted for a more political campaign that forced moderate and conservative Democrats to take votes on dozens of amendments that attempted to link the proposal to higher unemployment and more expensive energy bills. GOP campaign operatives sent out press releases to reporters in the Democrats' districts immediately after each vote.
Voinovich yesterday shrugged off the prospect of political red meat. "You should have the best intelligence in front of you," he said.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he hoped the GOP lawmakers would ultimately back down from their boycott threat if they were promised a more complete study before the floor debate, which is widely expected to come early next year.
"Certainly by the time all these bills are merged, and by the time we get to the floor, I think there's ample time for EPA to finish the work they've already begun," Carper said. "Hopefully, whatever our Republican friends feel like they need in terms of modeling, they'll have it by the time the bill has come to the floor."