Senate Democrats pulled the plug on climate legislation Thursday, pushing the issue off into an uncertain future ahead of mid-term elections where President Barack Obama’s party is girding for a drubbing.
Rather than a long-awaited measure capping greenhouse gases - or even a more limited bill directed only at electric utilities - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will move forward next week on a bipartisan energy-only bill that responds to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and contains other more popular energy items.
“We don’t have the 60 votes,” said Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). “So Sen. Reid’s a pragmatist. So rather than take us to a situation where we don’t have the votes, rather than do half measures, let’s wait until we can get it done and get it right. So I think it’s a smart decision.”
The writing has been on the wall all week, with advocates lowering expectations in light of continued opposition from GOP senators and some moderate Democrats.
“I don’t believe an energy bill has ever passed off the floor in less than about three weeks,” Kerry said Thursday during a town-hall style forum hosted by the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The fact is this is a very complicated bill that has a lot of moving parts. I’m very realistic about that.”
“It�s not dying,” Kerry added. “It’s not going away...We’re going to try our best to find a way to do it in the next few weeks. If we can’t do it in the next weeks, we’ll do something that begins to do something responsibly in the short term. But this will stay out there and we’ll be working on it, we’ll be asking you to talk to your senators and move them to understand why we have to get this done.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kerry’s partner on the climate proposal, said he had no problem with Reid delaying debate on greenhouse gas caps. “If that’s the truth, it keeps the process open for negotiating a broader utilities-only bill in September,” he said.
Kerry and Lieberman are still working with the electric utility industry, including its lead trade group, the Edison Electric Institute, on a bill slicing its emissions around 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
But other Democrats have their doubts that Kerry and Lieberman will even get time for a floor debate after the August break, especially with Reid and other senators girding up for their own reelection bids.
“We’ve got very substantial constraints on our time when we get back,” Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico said Thursday.