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Senate Climate Bill Produces Little But Partisan Heat: Republicans Vow to Take Their Marbles and Go Home (or never show up)

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Republican Senators will "take their marbles and go home" - boycotting markup of the Kerry-Boxer climate billSenator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chairperson of the Energy and Public Works Committee (EPW), plans to proceed with markup of the Kerry-Boxer Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act tomorrow, despite a threatened boycott of the proceedings from the committee’s Republican members, led by Senator James Inhofe, a tireless climate change denier.

The move to go ahead with the bill’s markup without the minority party present is contentious, but Boxer justifies her intentions, saying that Republicans are simply attempting to stall legislation they have no intention of voting for anyway. Boxer says that Senate rules allow her to proceed with markup as long as a majority of the committee’s member are present, despite a long-standing precedent that two minority members be present for a bill’s markup.

We believe that there’s no reason for them to stay away,” Boxer said last week. “It’d be remarkably bad faith if they did.”

Republicans complain that they do not have enough information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the economic impacts of the bill, leaving them no choice but to boycott the markup session. Speaking for the minority on the EPW committee, Republican Matt Dempsey said:

The EPW Republicans would like a markup of the Kerry-Boxer bill, but are disappointed that the majority seems intent on moving forward with a markup before receiving a full analysis from the EPA. Given the sheer size and significant economic impacts of the bill on the American people, we feel it is our duty to insist on having the analysis before members are to vote on the bill.”

Boxer rejected the minority position with the following statement:

This bill has had comprehensive legislative hearings, with 54 expert witnesses in nine panels. Committee rules provide that the Chairman’s Mark be circulated three days before a business meeting, and we released it, along with the EPA’s economic analysis, ten days before the markup,” she said. “No climate bill has ever had this level of review and the Obama administration stands behind the EPA’s analysis.”

“We urge Ranking Member Inhofe, with the utmost respect, to bring the committee Republicans back to work on this issue. We will give them the opportunity, as we proceed this week, to reconsider their decision,” she added. “We look forward to working with them if they decide to participate, but if they do not, we will move forward in accordance with the rules of the Senate and of this committee.”

And so the continuing partisan feud heats up over climate legislation – and the bickering and posturing may not bode so well for the legislation itself. Senator Boxer released the latest draft of the bill late Friday, with some “technical changes” and amendments that include stricter limits on the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, but also give the agency more latitude to regulate GHGs from large industrial sources than provided for in the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House last summer.

Shooting themselves in the foot?

While such legislative “theatrics,” as Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse characterized the Republican boycott, are nothing new, some warn that the EPW committee is marching into “seldom seen” territory in the fight over climate legislation.

According the Energy & Environment News, a former Democratic Senate staffer said that ramming through the markup process may not be the wisest move and is likely to turn off swing-vote Senators. “That product is toxic,” said the former stagger. “It’s basically worthless.”

Energy industry attorney Scott Wheeler said there is “an awful lot of bipartisan common ground” to be found on climate legislation. Ground that ┬ánobody appears willing to touch in recent days (the recent New York Times op-ed piece from Senators Kerry and Graham notwithstanding). And allowing the bickering between Democrats and Republicans on the EPW to spill into public view “won’t help the process,” he said.

Boycotts and discharge petitions are both exceedingly rare,” said Segal. “They are signs that the process has broken down. On such a major bill like climate change, these actions would put us in uncharted waters. That can’t be good.”

This afternoon, six senior Republicans, each on one of the six committees with jurisdiction over the climate bill, delivered a letter to Senator Boxer, urging her to “slow down” in her push to move the climate bill forward. The Senators warned that moving forward without EPW Republicans will risk “severely damaging chances of the bill passing on the Senate floor.” In the letter, the legislators said they were “deeply troubled buy the failure to accommodate” Republican requests for more information on the bill. Two of the letter’s signatories are Foreign Relations committee ranking member Richard Lugar and Energy and Natural Resources Committee member Lisa Murkowski. Both Lugar and Murkowski have signaled support in the past for cap-and-trade legislation, and are two of the 27 “fence sitters” that Democrats will need to reach the “60 vote climb” and pass a climate bill.

Sources and further reading:
Washington Post
AFP
New York Times/ClimateWire (subscription)

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