Global Warming to Take Senate Hot Seat

Posted May 30, 2008 at 3:20pm

The Senate will be consumed this week by the heated debate on global warming, but it’s unclear which party will end up looking like a spoiler.

The chamber is expected to move Monday night to a relatively noncontroversial vote on a motion to proceed to the global warming bill, sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.), which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70 percent by 2050.

But after that, everything is an open question. Warner-Lieberman’s main plank is a controversial cap-and-trade system that would set limits on the amount of pollutants one company could emit. It would then charge other companies that want to increase their emissions by allowing them to buy increased emission levels from another company.

The bill is large and complex, and it is unlikely to gain the 60 votes needed for passage.

But under pressure from exorbitant gas prices and GOP losses during a presidential election year, Senate Republicans are trying to come up with a plan of their own.

Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) recently proposed a Manhattan Project-like GOP initiative to combat global warming that focuses on “clean energy independence.” GOP leaders are holding a pow-wow at 3 p.m. Monday to “discuss rising fuel costs and ways Congress can promote clean energy sources” while “easing the strain on family budgets and reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”

But a core group of Republicans argue that the cap-and-trade system would increase job losses in the already suffering manufacturing industry, sending more jobs overseas. Some GOP Members have said that Warner-Lieberman would further drive up soaring gas prices.

On Friday, a GOP aide speculated about how Democrats might deal with floor debate on the measure, from preventing Republicans from offering proposals by filling the amendment tree to even possibly outright quashing the bill and waiting until they believe a Democratic president is installed to deal with the issue.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the panel that considered the global warming legislation, has previously maintained that she would be opposed to allowing amendments that would weaken the climate bill, including one that would apply the cap-and-trade restriction just to power plants.

According to one GOP spokesman for the environmental committee, the bill will primarily become a “show trial” for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and fellow Democrats, placing some of them in awkward positions.

The GOP aide pointed to Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) as perhaps not in line with the overall Democratic position.

An aide to Landrieu said the Louisiana Democrat, who has traditionally voted with Republicans on energy and environmental policies, would not support the bill in its current form.

The Landrieu aide acknowledged that timing may not be on Democrats’ side, considering the presidential campaign and President Bush’s unyielding lack of support for the bill, saying that there are some “structural problems” with the measure.

“There doesn’t appear to be any strategy on what to achieve and how to get there. Because of that, there may be a lot of difficult votes. The overall objective is not clear,” the Landrieu aide said.