Lieberman-Warner cloture vote falls short; bill pulled

The US Senate's long-awaited debate on global climate change ended June 6—not with a bang but with a whimper.

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 10 -- The US Senate's long-awaited debate on global climate change ended June 6—not with a bang but with a whimper.

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) brought the bill to the Senate floor on June 2, but Democrats withdrew it after a cloture vote fell 12 votes short of the 60 votes needed to limit debate. Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) originally introduced the measure, S. 3036, on Oct. 18, 2007.

Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) filed an amendment tree, which limited the number of changes that could be made to the bill, and filed for cloture on June 4.

Following 3 days of debate in which Democrats accused Republicans of delays and Republicans charged Democrats with trying to keep additional amendments from being introduced, 48 senators voted to invoke cloture, while 36 opposed the motion.

"We saw this morning yet another example of Bush-McCain Republicans refusing to address one of the most important issues of our time," said Reid after the vote. He said Democrats will continue fighting to cut carbon emissions, create green jobs, and end US dependence on foreign oil.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) countered, "The majority says climate change is the most important issue facing the planet. Yet they've rushed the debate on that topic and brought the bill to a premature end. They brought it down before we could vote on [gasoline] prices, on clean energy technology, or on protecting American jobs."

A 2009 return likely
Democrats produced letters from the two major parties' presumptive presidential nominees, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) saying they would have supported cloture had they been present. The support signals that global climate change will be addressed legislatively in 2009 and will get a more hospitable White House reception than President George W. Bush gave this bill, which he threatened to veto.

Boxer said June 6 that statements of support for the cloture motion were received from four other absent senators—Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-RI), Hillary R. Clinton (D-NY), and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.).

But James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Environment and Public Works Committee's ranking minority member, said S. 3036 was "one of the largest bills ever considered by this Congress and probably the largest nonappropriations bill the Senate has ever considered. It deserved a full and honest debate, with amendments offered and voted upon," Inhofe said following the bill's withdrawal.

Debate began amicably on June 2 when the Senate agreed by 74 to 14 votes to take up the bill. Boxer said she had added a deficit reduction trust and almost $1 trillion in tax relief to offset the initial increases in energy costs that would have resulted. She said S. 3036 was not a tax bill but a measure modeled on earlier acid rain legislation where the polluter paid. "Let's start debating this bill," she urged.

Broader debate sought
Republicans requested at least 30 hr of general debate before taking up any amendments. The public didn't understand what the measure would do, which made a broader debate necessary, suggested Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). After Boxer and other Democrats called this a delaying tactic, Republicans responded by requesting that the more than 500-page bill be read aloud. They also said that they had several amendments to propose.

"These petty, partisan tactics waste the American people's time," Reid said on June 4. "Ignoring the crisis of global warming endangers all of us. The longer we wait to act, the more costly it will be and the greater the risk that we won't be able to undo the damage. Each day that Republicans delay costs American taxpayers billions of dollars and squanders an opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs," he said.

Inhofe responded that it was disingenuous to say Reid filed the amendment tree because McConnell raised questions about federal judicial nominations. "The majority brought this climate tax bill to the floor, and if they are serious about the issue, they will allow an open debate on amendments." Inhofe said. "Let us offer, debate, and vote on amendments."

Republicans and Democrats disagreed on the bill's costs, and Boxer and other supporters accused opponents of resorting to scare tactics. Assistant majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) on June 5 accused the minority of fearing change. "They are afraid of change. Anything that will change things scares them. They don't think America is resilient enough and powerful enough to accept change. They are wrong."

John Cornyn (R-Tex.) responded, "I don't know any person of goodwill alive who doesn't care about the quality of the air we breathe and the cleanliness of the water we drink." He said that asking questions and wanting to offer amendments to improve "this huge bill, this huge tax increase, this huge increase in the cost of energy" does not suggest one doesn't care about the environment.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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