Climate Change Debate Finds Its Way to Senate Floor

Posted June 5, 2010 at 11:00am

The Senate returns to a plate of leftovers next week, but action on Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s climate change amendment could spice up the floor debate Thursday.

The Alaska Republican’s proposal rolling back Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate greenhouse gases comes as Democrats renew their push to pass climate change legislation following the Gulf Coast oil spill.

A final vote on Murkowski’s measure is expected Thursday evening, and with 41 co-sponsors to the resolution, aides predict it will easily clear the 51-vote threshold for passage.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is also trying to get in front of the energy and climate issue: He said this week he hopes to bring a clean energy bill to the floor “later this summer.”

That scenario faces major headwinds given the Senate’s stacked agenda and the upcoming midterm elections. Reid has said he wants to pass a small-business lending bill, the defense authorization bill, a budget and the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan before adjourning for the August break.

The Senate will vote on a trio of district court nominations Monday evening before turning to the $113 billion tax and unemployment benefits extenders package the House passed late last month. Senators were unable to clear those items before adjourning for the Memorial Day break.

The extenders debate is likely to push into the following week; the House almost surely will have to vote again on whatever the Senate passes.

The House will consider an overhaul of the Federal Housing Administration and possibly a small-business lending bill.

After disposing of those bills, House leaders will have to deal with the aftermath of the pre-recess revolt of fiscally conservative Democrats against deficit spending, which forced leaders to cut the extenders bill nearly in half and delete items including state aid and COBRA health benefits for unemployed workers.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted before the break that all the items in the original package would eventually become law.

The next big test will likely come on the war supplemental, given that Democratic leaders want to pass tens of billions in emergency aid to states to avoid teacher layoffs.

House leaders haven’t officially given up on passing a budget resolution, but many rank-and-file Members would prefer to avoid a vote on one given the record deficits it would project. Lawmakers still must agree on an overall spending cap before they can move forward with regular appropriations. Blue Dog Democrats are demanding a 2 percent domestic spending cut while others are pushing for a freeze or a small increase.

Both chambers also plan to send a financial regulatory reform bill to the president’s desk for his signature before the July Fourth break.

Senate conferees have been announced; House Members still must be assigned. Aides say a conference schedule could be announced next week, but action will likely be postponed until after Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s Democratic primary runoff in Arkansas on Tuesday. Lincoln is one of the 12 Senators assigned to the conference committee.