Uphill Climb to 60 Votes on Climate Bill

Republican Sen. Graham's support seen as a game changer

By Lisa Lerer
|  Sunday, Oct 11, 2009  |  Updated 9:45 PM CDT
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Republican Sen. Graham's support for a climate bill is seen as a game changer.

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South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced his support for a climate bill this year on Sunday – but Democrats still face a steep climb to gain broad bipartisan backing for the legislation.

Democrats need just a handful of Republicans to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster – if they can convince skeptical coal- and manufacturing-state Democrats to support the bill.

But while environmentalists heralded Graham’s support as a “game changer,” any climate bill still faces steep obstacles in the Senate.

“We are also convinced that we have found… a framework for climate legislation to pass Congress,” Graham wrote in a Sunday New York Times op-ed co-authored with Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry. “It begins now, not months from now — with a road to 60 votes in the Senate.”

But Graham, who is not backing the climate change bill introduced by Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) last month, admits that getting Republican votes for any climate bill will be a tough sell.

“I’m open for business,” said Graham last week, “but I’m just one senator.”

Republicans have labeled the bill an “energy tax,” that will raise electricity costs. And Graham’s support for legislation, say Democratic Senate aides, doesn’t even insure the backing of his closest ally in the Senate, Arizona Republican John McCain.

McCain, who introduced a climate bill in 2005, said he could not support any proposal that did not include additional funding for nuclear storage, recycling, and power plants. The legislation introduced by Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer last month included a section that would incentivize worker training at nuclear plants and new research into expanding the licensing periods for reactors.

“I can’t negotiate without a robust nuclear provision,” said McCain this week. “You cannot significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions without nuclear power, that’s my position.”

Democrats say strengthening support for coal, offshore oil exploration, and nuclear energy could help gain Republican support for the bill.

“If they see there is robust title for nuclear title it will be helpful,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who’s working on the coal provisions in the legislation. “I don’t know that it will convince a lot of them but it will be helpful.”

 


But nuclear power and offshore drilling are fiercely opposed by environmentalists and could infuriate more liberal Democrats, who see them as dangerous and dirty sources of power.

And even the handful of Republicans targeted by Democrats as possible supporters say they also have significant economic concerns about passing legislation that uses a cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats and who introduced a climate bill last year, have spent months trying to convince Republicans to back the Boxer-Kerry bill. They’ve reached out to members like Graham, Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Richard Burr of North Carolina — all of whom have harshly criticized the climate bill that passed the House in late June.

“Now is not the time for us to be imposing added financial burdens the extent to which we don't know, we haven't identified, we haven't costed out,” Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski said recently.

Others, like Voinovich, are reluctant to mandate cuts in emissions without international agreement. If developing nations like China and India do not also agree to curb greenhouse gases, he argues, domestic legislation will drive factories to those, lower-cost countries.

Other legislators say the legislation will hurt the agriculture industry by raising the cost of fertilizer and diesel fuel, and putting farmers under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“This kind of legislation beyond a shadow of a doubt is an assault on farmers and ranchers in an economic way,” said Nebraska Rep. Mike Johanns shortly after the bill was introduced late last month.

And there are other Republicans who don’t believe global warming is even a problem.

“God is still up there,” said Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe recently. “We go through cycles and there's not that strong relationship between anthropogenic gases and climate change.”

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