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Cap and Trade in the Senate

June 29, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Now that the Waxman-Markley climate change bill is out of the House, everyone wants to know what’s going to happen with it in the Senate. There are a handful of reports today on the bill’s Senate prospects form the big news agencies. The best one comes from Darren Samuelsohn of Greenwire, published by the New York Times.

It’s a good article, and fairly comprehensive, but at this point nobody has any idea what’s going to happen. The Senate’s version of the bill has even been written yet. As the article explains, it’s definitely going to be a tough fight to get the 60 votes that will be needed for it to pass. There are a lot of moving parts. Between pro-nuclear Republicans, rust-belt moderates, global warming deniers, and committed environmentalists, the Senate might be able to find a sweet spot and pass a bill that includes a cap-and-trade plan, but it’s also easy to imagine the whole thing breaking down.

Looks possible:

According to an E&E analysis of the Senate, 60 votes is within reach for a cap-and-trade climate bill, but many concessions must be made to get the measure across the goal line.

To start, there are 45 senators in the “yes” or “probably yes” camp, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Maine Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

There are 23 fence sitters. Alaska’s Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski® need to keep their home state’s oil and gas interests in mind, while Ohio’s Sherrod Brown (D) and Michigan Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow are pressing for provisions that help agriculture and their state’s ailing manufacturing and auto industries.

There are also 32 Republicans who are unlikely to vote for a climate bill of the shape and size that Obama and congressional Democratic leaders envision, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Missouri Sen. Kit Bond and Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, an outspoken skeptic about the link between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Republicans and conservative Democrats make it sound impossible:

“I think you have to think what the impact is at home,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said earlier this month. "Certainly, I want to support the president when I can. But I can’t when I can’t.

It is unclear where Obama might do the most good. A day after last November’s election, President-elect Obama talked about climate change during a meeting in Chicago with his Republican rival from the presidential race, McCain, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

In an interview earlier this month, McCain, who twice forced Senate floor votes on cap-and-trade legislation during the Bush years, said he had not heard from Obama on climate change since last November.

“I don’t think it’s possible,” McCain said. “It’s total disarray. There’s no bipartisanship, there’s no consensus.”

Asked how Obama could win his vote on climate change, McCain replied, “Sit down and negotiate seriously. We’ve had none of that.”

Graham said he would support climate legislation so long as it includes less aggressive emission targets and greater incentives for nuclear power and offshore oil and natural gas development.

“The bottom line, if you want to get 60 votes, you’re going to have to broaden this beyond cap and trade,” Graham said.


Yet there is plenty of reason to think a deal remains possible this year in the Senate on the climate bill.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a close friend of Obama’s who has remained on the fence on climate legislation, said the global warming debate will fit in well with the president’s overall agenda.

“I think there’s more likely to be compromises this year, because everyone understands the economy is in such a fragile condition that you don’t want to pass anything that’s going to do any kind of have the opposite impact that we’re trying to have on the stimulus,” she said. “We don’t want to work against ourselves here in terms of job creation.”

This bill passed through the House, where Democrats hold a 78-seat majority, with just one vote to spare. Jay Cost takes a look at what we can learn about the Senate prospects from the House roll call.

Another good place to look for clues on the Senate is the vote they took on a cap-and-trade bill last year. That bill had slightly lower goals for reducing carbon emissions and contained fewer provisions outside of the cap-and-trade mechanism. You can see the details on that vote here. Seven Republicans voted for that bill, though only three of them are still in the Senate this session. On the other hand, four Democrats voted against the bill, all of whom are still in the Senate.

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