This vote was on an amendment by Mike Johanns, R-Neb., that would exempt climate change or clean energy legislation from being subject to a budgetary process known as “reconciliation.” Reconciliation is intended for bills that reduce the deficit, but because of the stringent rules surrounding the process basically ensures that any bill being considered in this fashion will become enacted. Johanns’ amendment was offered to the budget resolution that serves as the blueprint for Congress’ budget priorities in fiscal 2010. The budget resolution sets overall spending targets for the Appropriations committees and outlines other budget rules.
Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., offered a counterproposal to Johanns’ amendment (see vote 125). The Whitehouse-Boxer amendment would also have prohibited climate change or clean energy legislation from being subject to reconciliation, but contained an exemption not present in Johanns’ amendment. The Whitehouse-Boxer amendment would also have allowed reconciliation to be used if the Senate found that climate change is a threat to the economy, public health and national security of the United States.
The jockeying was spurred by a proposal put forth by President Obama that would implement a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions that would raise $646 billion in revenues over 10 years. A “cap-and-trade” system would basically cap the amount of climate change-affecting pollution that an industry could emit, and then set up an “emissions allowances” system whereby industries that need to purchase more than their cap can buy allowances from those who fall below their cap.
Boxer said it’s necessary to consider this groundbreaking legislation under reconciliation in order to head off “a slew of amendments that try to undermine and undercut President Barack Obama and the priorities I talked about.
“[Reconciliation] is a way you can bring up a bill and avoid a filibuster. That is a very important option for us to have when we are dealing with very important issues. But the other side is not happy with that. They want to make sure we can vote on it. So Senator Johanns has a very simple and straightforward resolution that says: Reconciliation will not be used related to climate change. Senator Whitehouse and I have a side by side with that that says: Fine, we will not use it unless the Senate finds that the public health, the economy, and national security are jeopardized by inaction on global warming.”
John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said reconciliation was never intended to be used to help pass major policy initiatives such as cap and trade.
“Cap and trade would be one of the most dramatic expansions of Government in American history. It is a trillion-dollar climate bailout scheme,” Barrasso said. “We have passed numerous bailout bills over the past 6 months. We have just passed a $787 billion bailout for an economic plan intended to save or create millions of jobs. The American people deserve the opportunity to have any climate bailout go through the regular order.”
The Democratic Party is somewhat fractured over the issue, breaking down mostly along regional lines – some Democrats from industrial and mining states, particularly coal-producing states, fear such a large change in America’s energy economy could lead to job losses and in part caused them to oppose fast-tracking this legislation through the reconciliation process.
By a vote of 67-31, the amendment was adopted. Every Republican present voted for the amendment. Of Democrats present, 26 voted for the amendment and 29 voted against it (including the most progressive senators). The end result is that Johanns’ amendment that would prohibit the reconciliation process from being used to move climate change legislation was adopted. (The Whitehouse-Boxer amendment was defeated, see vote 125.)