The Senate Climate Bill Reaches a First Milestone Today — Maybe

The Senate environment committee is slated
to begin formally voting on its climate change bill today in an
atmosphere of high drama, thanks to Republican members who have vowed to boycott the proceedings in a bid to delay the legislative process.

boxer.bb_742515.jpgSenate environment chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), at right, with the panel’s top Republican, Jim Inhofe (OK). (Photo: CNN)

The
GOP gambit is intended to push the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a complete
analysis of the Senate climate bill, a task that could take upwards of
five weeks.

The senior Republicans on the six Senate committees with jurisdiction over climate change renewed their entreaties in a letter sent yesterday to environment panel chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). They wrote:

While
such analyses are never perfect, they are an essential aspect of the
legislative decision-making process when policy changes of such
consequence are in play. As is the case with legislation itself, these
analyses are worth the time and resources required not only to get them
done, but to get them done right.

As Grist’s David Roberts observed
on Friday, the Senate climate bill is largely similar to the House
version that was passed in June after in-depth analysis by the CBO and
the EPA. Performing another full workup of the Senate climate bill,
then, would serve little purpose other than to push its consideration
past next month’s global environmental talks in Copenhagen — notching
a political win for GOP leaders.

So how can Boxer take up the
bill with only Democrats in attendance? The answer is a complicated one
that relies on a specific interpretation of committee rules and
precedents; but even if work can begin today, it’s unclear whether amendments to the bill can be considered without a GOP presence.

The Republican senators referred to this outcome in their letter to Boxer:

We
understand that there may be an effort to report [the Senate climate
bill] from the [environment] committee not only without a satisfactory
analysis, but also without sufficient opportunity to address the
bipartisan concerns raised over the course of legislative hearings on
the measure.

In fact, neither Boxer nor Sen.
John Kerry (D-MA), the Senate climate bill’s co-author, likes the idea
of pushing the legislation through its first committee votes without a
debate on amendments. Kerry released a statement yesterday afternoon
noting that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supported emissions limits during
his presidential run last year and asking "everyone to come back to the
table," sentiments also voiced by Boxer.

Limiting amendments to the climate bill would also have consequences for transportation policy.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) has submitted a
proposal to increase the bill’s annual set-aside of revenue for clean
transport by more than $400 million.

If his amendment comes
to a vote, it could well be approved, given that six of the environment
panel’s 12 Democrats have signed on to Carper’s bill dedicating more
climate money to transit. But if no amendments are considered, the
chances of increasing the bill’s clean transport funding — which is
already nearly three times the size of the House version — would get notably slimmer.

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