Senate Cool to Addressing Climate Change This Year

Posted September 16, 2009 at 6:54pm

Climate change legislation is rapidly moving down the Senate priority list as Democrats wrestle with health care reform and grimace at the thought of taking up two politically trying issues this year.

“It’s all health care all the time,— Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said this week.

And Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), pointing to the chamber’s packed schedule, has floated the possibility of kicking energy reform to next year.

“We have to do this health care matter. … The president’s talked in the last few days about how important regulatory reform is. So, you know, we are going to have a busy, busy time the rest of this year. And of course, nothing terminates the end of this year. We still have next year to complete things that we have to,— Reid told reporters Tuesday.

The House narrowly passed its version of climate change legislation in June, a controversial cap-and-trade plan that would require steady reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and would set a national standard for renewable electricity. But that plan lacks sufficient support in the Senate where 60 votes are needed to avert a filibuster.

Troubling for the issue is not just the Senate’s already-full calendar, but also the number of committees with jurisdiction over it. Six Senate panels share responsibility for climate change, and committee chairmen have continued to wrestle over who among them should play the most influential role.

Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) have taken the lead and are expected to jointly introduce a bill later this month.

But Kerry and Boxer are expected to produce a liberal-leaning measure, which is unlikely to find favor with Senate moderates, especially those representing coal-rich states. Already facing a difficult vote on health care reform, Democratic moderates in particular acknowledge they have little appetite for a second tough fight this year.

“The chances for climate change are improved if we pass a good health care bill,— said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a moderate and member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“The point is the votes aren’t there,— added GOP moderate and fellow panel member George Voinovich (Ohio). “Maybe [Boxer] can get something out of committee. I don’t know.—

Meanwhile, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — whose panel has jurisdiction over climate change legislation and who also sits on EPW — has been consumed with health care reform in recent months. While he’s held a handful of hearings on energy reform this year, health care reform has clearly taken center stage.

Likewise, Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who with Kerry sits on the Finance panel, has been largely focused on Democratic health care reform efforts.

Then there’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who has said she will offer recommendations to Boxer and Kerry on their legislation rather than marking up her own bill.

That leaves the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is the only committee of jurisdiction to pass an energy bill this Congress.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) acknowledged the reality of the situation, saying:

“I think it’s increasingly difficult to have a climate change bill completed by the end of this year, frankly.—

Complicating matters further is the fact that Republican Senators have spent much of the year battling any Democratic attempt to pass comprehensive energy reform. Further, Republicans generally oppose a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions.

Providing at least his version of a timeline, Voinovich predicted the Senate won’t act until after December, when international leaders gather in Copenhagen to discuss an emissions treaty.

“I think that’s smart,— said Voinovich, who is retiring in 2010. “If we don’t do something internationally, what we do here doesn’t matter.—