House and Senate Democrats united Tuesday in their commitment to push sweeping global warming legislation despite resistance from President Bush.
Democrats said they see enough daylight to get a bill done but are prepared to wait until a new president takes office if Republicans aren’t willing to sign on.
“It’s up to the Republicans,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who said virtually every Democrat was prepared to back the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade legislation he plans to bring to the floor in June. “It’s the most important issue we can deal with. ... If we can get cloture on it, we’re going to be very patient,” he said.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) criticized President Bush’s inaction on the issue and said she was opposed to watering down the legislation to apply solely to power plants — as suggested by Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).
“We want to do the entire economy because otherwise we’re not solving the problem,” she said. “I’m going to take this as far as we can and then see where we are.”
Boxer made it clear that she’s willing to wait. “At that point, we’ll see what we can do under a new president,” she said. “We need to do what’s necessary to solve the problem, not some feel-good measure.”
President Bush opened the door for limited legislation on global warming but signaled his opposition to the Lieberman-Warner bill and other bills.
“It was not as strong a signal as I hoped he would make,” said Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality.
But Boucher said Bush still appeared to leave enough daylight for a cap-and-trade bill if it had industry and bipartisan backing.
Boucher said he has invited Republicans for 15 months to help write a bill, but they haven’t stepped up.
“That can still be done, but it’s a narrow window,” he said. “We have to get moving now if we are going to have a bill on the floor this summer.”
Boucher said there is still pressure on both parties to get something done this year, given the uncertainty of what might happen next year.
“If we build a big base, support from some environmental groups and key industries, it will come to the floor. ... The sooner it passes, the sooner you can start reducing emissions, the sooner we create a green industry that exports all over the world,” he said.
Boucher pointed to what he said was the irony of the situation — Republicans usually complain that they are being shut out of legislation, and now they are being asked to help write it “and we’re being told no.”
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a key member of Energy and Commerce, said he could support a cap-and-trade system depending on how it is structured. He said it must take care of the coal and nuclear power industries while addressing the massive growth of emissions from China and India.
“We could do all this pain with no gain,” Shimkus said.
Shimkus said he and Boucher have talked, but there isn’t yet a framework for a compromise bill.
And Shimkus said that even if there was an agreement that included coal and nuclear, he doesn’t think Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would allow it to come to the floor because of opposition from the party’s liberal wing.
A House Democratic leadership aide said: “Nuclear and coal will be in the mix; that’s inevitable. It’s how we innovate so that they are responsibly in the mix that is the question.”
The Senate will be the focus first because the House might end up taking a pass if the Senate can’t pass a bill.
Senate conservatives remain opposed to major cap-and-trade legislation that they describe as a massive tax increase that will send jobs overseas and hit families with higher costs.
“I don’t think the science is there yet,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said. “Cap-and-trade is a tax increase.”
And Coburn complained that the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill has so many carve-outs, “they bought off everyone.”
“All we need is two or three more years of not doing something stupid and the science will regain the debate instead of the political activists, and we’ll have policies based on science and not emotion,” he said.
Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) also ripped cap-and-trade, especially for distressed states like his already suffering from a shrinking manufacturing base.
“It’ll kill us. Are you kidding me?” he said.
Voinovich acknowledges global warming is a problem but said the focus should be on global solutions and technology, not adding burdens to U.S. industry that will cause power prices to surge even more.
“I want to get it done,” he said of fighting global warming. “There is a sense of urgency. But let’s not do something that makes us kill our economy and does not have any real impact,” he said. Voinovich said China and India are the big problems with greenhouse gases, and nothing the United States does on its own will solve the problem.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.