Facing a third consecutive day of Republican boycotts, Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are preparing to report out global warming legislation this morning under an expedited fashion without considering any amendments.
Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has been presiding since Tuesday over EPW Committee action on the climate bill, though there has been no formal debate on any amendments or move to actually report the bill because she has been unable to have a quorum with at least two Republicans.
Several Senate sources said Boxer will shift into high gear on the 959-page proposal if Republicans do not show up again today. The markup is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. EST, and Boxer said she will announce her plans at that time.
"It can always change, but I believe we'll go tomorrow," Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) replied last night as he exited a closed-door strategy session with EPW Committee Democrats.
The meeting, Cardin said, entailed "how to proceed with the understanding that the Republicans are likely not to participate, which means that we basically, the process is limited as to what you can do."
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) left the strategy meeting saying the committee rules would allow the Democrats to approve the climate legislation without diving into any of the 80 amendments they have already filed on the proposal.
"Let me put it this way," Whitehouse said. "I don't know a way to take up an amendment without two Republicans present. That's been the problem. That's why we haven't been able to take up our amendments. That's why we haven't been able to take up the amendments that don't relate to the questions that they have about the analysis of the bill. So that's been our problem."
Only one Republican attended the start of EPW Committee markups Tuesday and yesterday to register a formal complaint that U.S. EPA has failed to provide an analysis of H.R. 2454, the House-passed climate bill, as well as its Senate counterpart.
EPW Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) will attend this morning's markup to object if Boxer goes ahead on the climate bill under what he has dubbed "the nuclear option," said Inhofe spokesman Matt Dempsey.
What will moderates think?
Boxer's move could pose a problem for the long-term prospects to pass a climate bill after several moderate GOP senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, all signed onto letters this week urging EPA to complete its analysis before the EPW panel moves forward.
"I think it's a big mistake for Senator Boxer to try to move the bill out of committee before meeting a very reasonable request for a full analysis by EPA," Collins said yesterday. "This is very significant legislation that's going to have a considerable impact on the economy, and we ought to have as much information as possible."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the lead sponsor of the climate measure, this week in requesting an EPA analysis of climate bill, but not until after several other committees have worked through their pieces of the proposal.
Collins echoed several Republicans who say that an EPA analysis before the floor debate would not be enough. "That's putting the cart before the horse," she said. "The members of the EPW Committee have got to make decisions on the bill that's before them. And to require them to make decisions on incomplete information strikes me as foolhardy and as foreclosing any possibility of Republican support. I don't know why you'd want to do that."
"They want us to vote on a bill," added Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), a member of the EPW Committee. "Why do we vote on a bill if we don't know what it does? Hogwash."
Graham's signature came within hours of his appearance at a press conference where he reaffirmed his role in working toward a bipartisan compromise on the climate proposal with Kerry and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Graham told reporters he was "sympathetic" to the GOP boycott on the EPW panel, which builds off a three-month-old request for information at EPA sought by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio).
"I'd probably be where Senator Voinovich is at," Graham said. "I think he's a pretty constructive guy, and I think he's got some legitimate concerns."
E&E ranks both Collins and Snowe as "probably yes" votes during floor consideration of a climate bill, while the other four senators who signed letters this week are listed as "fence sitters."
Asked if she was threatening to lose moderate GOP support on the proposal, Boxer said, "Let me just say, we'll follow the rules. The rules are written in the Senate committees for reasons. And the reasons are to make sure we can do our work. Can you imagine if, and regardless of who's in charge, there's never an ability to move a bill out. That would paralyze the nation."
Voinovich said he does not understand why Boxer and the Democrats do not sign off on a study that they eventually will have to do anyway.
"It is something that everybody around here I talk to, even some of the Democrats are saying why not just get it done, get it over with," Voinovich said. "I am hoping that somewhere along the line they can all get together and realize that if you don't do it now, it is going to poison the well and make it more difficult to get something done later on."
Boxer also appears to be moving a few days earlier than Reid had wanted. Three sources close to the process told E&E yesterday that the majority leader had suggested Boxer should wait until Tuesday, Nov. 10, in order to give the Republicans a full week to boycott the hearing.
Aides to Boxer and Reid declined comment on the schedule that the two senators discussed earlier this week.
Kerry yesterday defended Boxer's role in dealing with the gridlock on the EPW Committee. "I do know she has shown a tremendous willingness to have the EPA come up, to have the modeling fully examined," he said. "I think Senator Boxer is willing to legislate over the course of the next weeks and that's the way it should work.
"She needs to do what she needs to do as chair of her committee," Kerry added.
At the same time, Kerry said he is working on a "dual track" with Graham and Lieberman that is focused on closed-door negotiations with key senators and the Obama administration.
"We're just at the beginning stage," Kerry said. "One thing I'll say, we're not going to negotiate this publicly, day by day, drip by drip. We're going to do this in a way that maximizes the privacy of putting something like this together."