This vote was on an amendment by Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would create what is known as a "reserve fund" to allow for an increase related to any future climate change bill Congress may pass. The amendment was offered to the bill that serves as the blueprint for Congress’ budget priorities in fiscal 2010, known as the budget resolution.
The budget resolution sets overall spending targets for the Appropriations committees and outlines other budget rules. When Congress violates these rules -- such as allocating more money for a program than what was set out in the budget resolution -- the measure can be defeated on a procedural motion. However, the budget resolution also typically contains several “reserve funds” that provide some spending flexibility for certain designated programs. Reserve funds allow Congress to adjust the funding levels for some programs even after the budget resolution is enacted into law, as long as the House and Senate Budget committees agree to the change. This allows Congress to potentially spend more money on these programs than they had intended when Congress passed the budget resolution, without violating budget rules. Boxer's amendment would create one of these reserve funds to allow Congress to eventually enact a climate change bill, without falling afoul of the budget resolution's prohibition on deficit spending.
Boxer's amendment, in essence, helps pave the way for eventual enactment of a sweeping climate change bill lawmakers have been drafting, that would create what is known as a "cap and trade" system to help curb greenhouse gas pollutants. The idea behind cap and trade is that the government would set a cap on emissions, which would be measured through emissions allowances. Once a company reached its limit of allowances, then it would have to go out onto the open market and purchase allowances from other companies that did not use all of theirs, or else curb their emissions. In this way, "cap and trade" seeks to impose market pricing on polluters in an effort to get companies to curb their emissions.
John Thune, R-S.D., said Boxer's amendment would have the effect of helping to institute a "national energy tax proposal." He offered an alternative amendment that would create a reserve fund for any future climate change bill, but would specify that the future bill can't raise electricity rates or gasoline prices for U.S. consumers.
"So what I would hope that my colleagues will bear in mind when we vote is that any cap-and-trade system that is put in place is going to have a significant increase in energy costs in this country. You can call it what you want—a lightbulb tax, a national energy tax—but it is pretty clear that is going to be the case," Thune said.
Boxer said there is no such thing as a "national energy tax proposal."
"The fact is, we have a cap-and-trade system in place for acid rain. I never heard one Republican come to the floor and call that a tax. It is not a tax," Boxer said. "My friend is very concerned that energy prices will go up. I share his concern. He should vote for my amendment. As a matter of fact, I think it would be stunning if my friend didn’t because I said any kind of a cap-and-trade system that comes forward will not increase electricity or gas prices or increase the overall burden on consumers."
By a vote of 54-43, the amendment was adopted. All but two Democrats present voted for the amendment. Every Republican present voted against the amendment. The end result is that the Senate adopted a measure that will allow Congress to eventually institute a sweeping climate change bill without falling afoul of budget rules against deficit spending.