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GOP Won't Shut Down Government to Block 'War on Coal,' Thune Predicts

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A top Senate Republican predicted the GOP's fight against the EPA's "war on coal" won't lead to a government shutdown.  

Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota predicted Thursday that a proposal from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to effectively halt the EPA's regulation of carbon emissions from existing power plants won't go away.  

But Thune didn't think there was any appetite to threaten a government shutdown over climate change rules or any other issue in October, just before the 2014 mid-term elections.  

"No Republican is talking about using that as leverage to shut the government down," he said. "I don't think anybody — we've got a budget number that's been put in place now that we're operating under and any continuing resolution that gets adopted this year, I assume, would meet that number." Republicans are still split over their decision to shut down the government in 2013 in a failed attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act — but leaders clearly aren't eager for a replay.  

That said, Republicans plan to keep demanding a vote on the EPA amendment.  

"I think any legislation that's brought to the floor ... The Democrat leader of the majority should assume that Republicans are going to try and get a vote on that amendment. It's incredibly important in a lot of states," Thune said. "I represent a state where coal-fired power is a very big part of our energy mix and this is going to dramatically diminish coal-fired power in this country. In fact, I think the goal of the administration and the EPA is to just completely wipe out coal-fired power, and it is a reliable, affordable energy source. Probably the best one that we have right now."  

The amendment, floated by McConnell, is particularly important to the coal mining region of eastern Kentucky in his home state. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has signaled a willingness to hold such a vote with a 60-vote threshold, or with other amendment restrictions that have been unpalatable to Republicans.  

Both sides agree that amendment would've been crafted in a way germane to a minibus spending package that was parked last week. Such a vote might very well only require a simple majority.  

"It's important to a lot of our members, and I think it's important to a lot of Democrats which is why Sen. Reid I don't think wants to have it voted on on the floor, or for that matter even at the committee level," Thune said during an interview for a Sunday appearance on C-SPAN's "Newmakers."  

"I think you have to assume that any significant legislative vehicle that moves across the Senate floor in the foreseeable future, there will be an attempt ... to at least get a vote on, on this EPA issue," Thune said. "So, stay tuned on that. We'll see what happens, but it's awfully important to the economic vitality of a lot of states around this country and to the pocketbooks of a lot of middle income Americans."