The Heat Is Online

Senate Climate Bill Collapses

Democrats Call Off Climate Bill Effort

The New York Times, July 22, 2010

WASHINGTON — The effort to advance a major climate change bill through the Senate this summer collapsed Thursday even as President Obama signed into law another top Democratic priority — a bill to restore unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who have been out of work for six months or more.

Bowing to political reality, Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, said the Senate would not take up legislation intended to reduce carbon emissions blamed as a cause of climate change, but would instead pursue a more limited measure focused on responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and tightening energy efficiency standards.

“We know where we are,” Mr. Reid told reporters after reviewing the state of energy legislation with Senate Democrats and administration officials. “We know that we don’t have the votes.”

The decision was a major disappointment to conservation groups and lawmakers who had invested months in trying to negotiate legislation. The House last year passed its own climate change bill, a proposal that has created a backlash for some politically vulnerable Democrats. The outcome was also viewed as a setback by some utility executives who had hoped that Congress would set predictable rules governing carbon pollution.

Carol M. Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, who appeared with Mr. Reid and Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is a chief author of the climate bill, said the Obama administration was not happy but would support Mr. Reid’s decision.

“Obviously, everyone is disappointed that we do not yet have an agreement on comprehensive legislation,” she said.

Congressional and White House officials said the decision was a pragmatic move that could produce some legislation rather than bogging down the Senate over a bill that had no chance given strong opposition from most Republicans and some Democrats. They noted that the White House had acted on its own to raise fuel efficiency standards and had pushed the development of alternative fuels.

Democrats said the slimmer package would ensure that BP would pay for the cleanup of the gulf oil spill, and would promote further production of natural gas as well as the manufacturing of natural gas vehicles, especially big trucks. They said it would also tighten household energy efficiency requirements and increase financing of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

 But even the Senate’s ability to pass a bill with significant bipartisan elements before its scheduled August recess was in doubt given the intense focus on the November elections.

Separately on Thursday night the Senate rejected a House version of an emergency spending bill that also contained billions of dollars for domestic programs, including $10 billion to help states and local school districts avert teacher layoffs. Instead the Senate sent the House a version focused mainly on financing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While Senate Democrats revised their energy plans, the House voted 272 to 152 to send Mr. Obama a $34 billion six-month extension of unemployment pay for Americans who had exhausted their standard 26 weeks of aid. Signing the measure hours later, Mr. Obama said it would “restore desperately needed assistance to two and a half million Americans who lost their jobs in the recession.”

The bill had been the subject of a partisan battle, with Democrats saying that the economic crisis was an emergency that justified deficit spending, while Republicans argued that the cost should not be added to the deficit.

“We want to help those who are struggling with the current economic slowdown,” said Representative Charles Boustany Jr., a Louisiana Republican. “But we also agree with the American people that new spending must be paid for.”

In the final vote, 31 Republicans joined 241 Democrats in supporting the measure. Voting against it were 142 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
Democrats called the Republican opposition shameful given the financial struggles of many families. The bill had been stalled since late May, and advanced in the Senate this week only with the arrival of a new Democratic senator to succeed the late Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.
“It shouldn’t have been so hard,” said the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California.