Senate seesaws on climate with McCain-Lieberman defeat, Bingaman win

The Senate yesterday firmly rejected an amendment to the energy bill that would set mandatory caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming, only to move a few hours later to support a nonbinding resolution that calls on Congress to enact such market-based limits.

As the two votes show, it was a seesaw day as the Senate plodded through arguably the most debate it has ever encountered on climate change.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) led off with their plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels by 2010. After a three-hour debate, the Senate voted 38-60 against the amendment as 11 Democrats joined 49 Republicans to rebuff the proposal. Six Republicans, 31 Democrats and Vermont independent Sen. Jim Jeffords voted in support of the plan.

Four Democrats who voted for McCain-Lieberman in 2003 defected this year from a revamped version of the bill because of the inclusion of nuclear power provisions that cosponsors said would spur development of new carbon-free electric utilities. These Democrats include Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Mark Dayton (Minn.), Russ Feingold (Wis.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa.).

McCain and Lieberman vowed after the legislation's defeat to continue their campaign and both predicated another vote would occur within a year. "We got it to the best point where it could be, where it was real," Lieberman said. "It wasn't phony."


"We'll win over time," McCain said.

About two hours after McCain-Lieberman went down, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) gained voice vote approval of his "sense of the Senate" resolution that puts the chamber on record for the first time as saying it agrees that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global warming.

The Bingaman resolution language calls on Congress to "enact a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, market-based limits on emissions of greenhouse gases that slow, stop and reverse the growth of such emissions." It also includes the caveat that the cuts must not significantly harm the U.S. economy while also seeking comparable action by foreign countries that are U.S. trade partners and key sources of greenhouse gases.

An earlier version of the amendment included a deadline for Congress to act by the end of the first session of the 109th Congress, but Bingaman agreed during the debate to drop the schedule.

In an effort to expand the global warming debate to an international focus, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) next offered a "sense of the Senate" resolution that would have committed the United States to engage more forcefully in international global warming negotiations. But the Senate rejected the Kerry proposal, 46-49.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) also introduced an amendment last night targeting the White House's influence over public reports on the science behind global warming. On the floor, Lautenberg cited the resignation earlier this month of Council on Environmental Quality chief of staff Phil Cooney, now an employee of Exxon Mobil Corp., and the New York Times article that showed his edits on government scientific reports. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) charged Lautenberg's amendment as being all about politics, and the amendment was not on the schedule for a vote when the Senate adjourned.

On the Bingaman resolution, staunch global warming critic Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) sought to table the plan only to run into opposition from a dozen Republicans, 41 Democrats and Jeffords. The Inhofe motion was defeated 43-54 with Democrats finding GOP support from Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike DeWine (Ohio), Pete Domenici (N.M.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Richard Lugar (Ind.), McCain, Olympia Snowe (Maine), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and John Warner (Va.).

Proponents and opponents of establishing new greenhouse gas limits traded divergent opinions on the significance of the Bingaman resolution vote. Likening the vote to the Senate's 95-0 ballot in 1997 that put it on record against the Kyoto Protocol, Bingaman said his resolution was a "major step forward in a new policy direction for our nation."

Environmental groups quickly pivoted from the McCain-Lieberman defeat to spin the Bingaman resolution as a significant victory. "This represents a monumental sea change on the politics of global warming," said John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a prepared statement. "The White House has tried to block progress for four years, but the Senate is saying no, it's time to act."

But Inhofe argued otherwise, pointing out that McCain and Lieberman lost ground yesterday when compared with their 2003 vote that had garnered 43 supporters. "The trend is in our direction," he said. Of Bingaman's win, Inhofe said, "That is not a benchmark."

One Senate GOP aide said the Bingaman win came in part because some Republicans were exhausted by earlier climate votes, including the 66-29 victory Tuesday for an amendment from Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that bulks up existing climate practices being pursued by the Bush administration. By contrast, another key Republican aide described the Bingaman vote as a "big deal" and the "biggest thing since Kyoto" for the Senate.

A House GOP leadership aide yesterday noted the House made no mention of climate change in its version of the energy bill, a sign the issue will be contested when the energy bill ultimately goes to conference. "It definitely will make for some interesting discussions," the aide said yesterday of the Bingaman resolution.

Still, Senate Republicans such as Domenici, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, have in recent weeks shown a growing acceptance that lawmakers will soon need to enact a mandatory limit on greenhouse gas emissions. Domenici over the last week flirted with cosponsorship of a draft Bingaman amendment that would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions in relation to economic growth rather than through an outright limit.

In announcing his decision to pass on the bill, Domenici late Monday promised to hold hearings on global warming.

And DeWine said in an interview yesterday that McCain-Lieberman is only a few modifications away from gaining his support. Asked what provisions could be changed, the senior Ohio Republican senator cited the timetable for emission reductions as one area that could be loosened. "I think eventually we're going to have a bill that passes the Senate," DeWine said. "At some point you're going to get the votes. When that is, I don't know. But history is on the side of this bill."

Click here to view the McCain-Lieberman amendment.

Click here to view the Hagel amendment.

Click here to view Bingaman's sense of the Senate resolution.

Click here to view Kerry's resolution.

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