Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Democrats quashed a three-day-long Republican boycott and passed global warming legislation today using a procedural move that could undermine support from moderate senators if the bill reaches the floor.
Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and 10 Democrats signed off on the climate bill -- without considering amendments -- after trying without success to wait out Republicans.
Montana's Max Baucus was the lone Democrat to vote against the legislation, saying he was unable to get his concerns addressed in amendments. He favors easing the measure's 2020 emission limits. Baucus explained that he still wanted to help the bill win 60 votes on the floor, and he expected to play a large role going forward as chairman of the Finance Committee and as a senior member of the Agriculture panel.
"This is a first step," Baucus told reporters. "There will be many other steps."
Ranking Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma appeared only briefly at the start of the business meeting to implore Democrats not to use what he has dubbed the "nuclear option," which bypassed participation from Republicans. Inhofe said committee Republicans are standing firm in their belief that U.S. EPA should conduct a more thorough economic analysis of the bill before a committee vote.
"In the history of this, we've not been able to find a time when a bill has been marked up without minority participation," Inhofe said.
Boxer and her Democratic allies insisted that EPA had already done enough economic analysis to give lawmakers adequate information and that additional study now would waste taxpayer money -- an estimated $140,000 -- if they granted the Republican request. The chairwoman also defended her first-ever use of a committee rule that allows the majority to approve a bill even without a quorum of two minority members.
"That's why they wrote it," Boxer said of the rule. "Otherwise, the whole Senate can come to a screeching halt."
Boxer's move was criticized by several moderate Republicans, 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 of whom are seen as critical to reaching 60 votes. They signed letters this week urging EPA to complete its analysis before the EPW panel moved forward.
"The members of the EPW Committee have got to make decisions on the bill that's before them," Collins said yesterday in an interview. "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."
Senate Democrats countered that the moderate Republicans would come back to the negotiation table once the bitterness of the EPW Committee boycott subsides and EPA follows through with a request from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to conduct a five-week study of the entire proposal that reaches the floor.
"I think the senators you have mentioned will look to substance, rather than form," said Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who left the Republican Party earlier this year. "And there will be that EPA analysis at a later time. This bill is going to be changed markedly, when you move down the road. So they will get substantively what they want."
Specter bemoaned his inability to offer amendments addressing his home state's steel, coal and refining industries. But he said it was more important to pass the climate bill out of committee now, given the international spotlight on the Obama administration's role during a major U.N. conference Dec. 7-18 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"Copenhagen is very important symbolically," Specter said. "And Copenhagen would have been more impressed had we moved further. But Copenhagen will be impressed at least that we have the resoluteness to move ahead now."
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) missed the morning vote because of a longstanding commitment but explained that he would have supported the legislation, prompting Boxer to reopen the record and put him down as an "aye."
"I came here to work with people across the aisle, not this nonsense," Carper said, adding that he would try to include language during further negotiations that cap conventional air pollutant emissions, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides and mercury.
Tough work ahead
Reid, who is expected to play a larger role in the climate and energy bill as the debate spills into 2010, hailed the EPW Committee's passage of the measure.
"The committee's action today is a critically important step toward crafting a good strong clean energy and climate bill," Reid said in a statement. "There is much more work yet to do to obtain broad support for bipartisan legislation that can quickly put our nation on a path of reducing emissions cost-effectively and creating jobs and a cleaner more secure future."
In all, six committees are planning to weigh in on their pieces of the proposal, with Reid planning in the next week or so to meet with committee leaders. Also, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Graham and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are working with the Obama administration and senators who do not sit on any of the relevant committees in a bid to find 60 votes.
Their work won't be easy. Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime supporter of climate legislation, said yesterday that he is resistant to any proposal that does not sufficiently tackle an expansion of nuclear power. And the 2008 Republican presidential nominee warned sponsors not to include language that imposes trade barriers on developing countries if they do not do enough on global warming, a must-have for many senators from states with large manufacturing bases.
McCain also shrugged off the suggestion that Graham and Lieberman, two of his closest Senate allies, would be negotiating with his best interests in mind.
"It doesn't matter to me whether they do or not," McCain said. "I have the ability to make my own priorities understood."
Republican opposition on the EPW Committee had a useful link to Senate leadership, with Lamar Alexander of Tennessee serving as the party's conference chairman. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), took a swipe at Democrats for proceeding without Baucus.
"It's pretty clear that there was bipartisan opposition to this partisan vote," Stewart said.
Senior reporter Ben Geman contributed.