Senate Republicans said today that the defeat of last week's amendments to limit U.S. EPA's greenhouse gas authorities did not ensure that similar language was dropped from a federal spending agreement.
Senate Democrats say the fact that all four amendments failed to garner a majority of the vote supported their argument that the Senate would not accept language restricting EPA's powers to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
"I think, essentially, the fact that we weren't going to pass that language, I think, signaled strongly that this was not something that was going to be acceptable to the Senate," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who heads the Appropriations subcommittee responsible for funding EPA.
"I think we made this very clear in the context of the 2011 resolution that those were unacceptable. The president and my colleagues did a very good job of pushing back on some of those provisions that would have severe consequences to the health of the American people," Reed added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and three Democrats offered amendments on EPA to a small business research and development bill. McConnell's amendment -- derived from a bill by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) -- would have stripped EPA of its climate authorities. It drew 50 votes, far exceeding the votes for the Democrats' more limited amendments.
The votes occurred one day before Democrats and Republicans announced a deal on a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government through the end of fiscal 2011. But Republicans say they see no link between those two events.
"I don't buy that," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), when asked whether the votes had any bearing on the EPA riders' being left off the CR.
Murkowski said the 13 Democrats and one Republican who voted for the Democratic alternative amendments but not for McConnell's were simply seeking political cover on an unpopular vote.
"I'm not so sure that they were thinking that this was going to weaken or strengthen any hand in the budget negotiations," she said.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said the Senate votes had actually improved the case for anti-EPA legislation by showing that the majority of senators support at least some curbs on EPA climate authority.
"Over 60 members of the Senate have said the EPA has gone too far. And we're going let those people make sure their voices are heard," he said.
Barrasso said Republicans are now discussing ways to advance legislation to halt the carbon dioxide rules.
"There will be a lot of opportunities," he said.
Aside from the fiscal 2011 CR, Congress will have at least two more "must pass" bills this year to fund the federal government -- a bill to increase the federal debt ceiling and a bill to fund the government in fiscal 2012.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who sponsored the McConnell language in the House, said he had not begun discussing next steps yet but was confident a version of the bill would pass the Senate.
"We're not done. This issue's not going away," he said. Upton called House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) "masterful" for negotiating the deal he got on the CR and predicted that future spending legislation would include a discussion of EPA climate rules.
"No question about it," Upton said. "No debt limit is going to pass by itself. You'll have to have some significant pieces with it."
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