This vote was on preserving an amendment by Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that would exempt climate change or clean energy legislation from being subject to a budgetary process known as “reconciliation,” which 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. The amendment, which was also cosponsored by Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., 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.
The Whitehouse-Boxer amendment was offered as a counterproposal to another amendment by Mike Johanns, R-Nev., that would make it much more difficult to move climate change legislation through the reconciliation process. The Whitehouse-Boxer amendment was an attempt to blunt its impact and keep reconciliation open as an option.
The Whitehouse-Boxer amendment contained an exception that would allow reconciliation to be used for climate change or energy legislation if the Senate found that climate change is a threat to the economy, public health and national security of the United States.
After Whitehouse offered his amendment, Judd Gregg, R-N.H., made a motion that it be defeated with a parliamentary maneuver. Whitehouse then asked that the parliamentary rule be waived for his amendment, which is what this vote was on.
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.
“It allows the reconciliation procedure to be considered if the Senate finds that inaction on climate change will jeopardize the public health, the economy or the national security of the United States,” Whitehouse said. “I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of the economy, the national security, and the public health of the United States.”
Johanns said the amendment should be defeated in order to preserve “Senate tradition.”
“Some weeks ago, a man whom I respect a tremendous amount, Senator Byrd, and I circulated a letter. It was directed to the chairman of the Budget Committee. It simply said: Please don't use reconciliation to pass complex legislation such as climate change. We got over 30 signatures on that--very bipartisan. We had Democrats and we had Republicans join in that. If we allow this amendment to pass, basically what we are saying is, under the terms of this language, a majority of Senators can arrive and simply take away our ability to have a robust debate, to have the ability to debate this issue the way it deserves, and this is enormously significant legislation,” Johanns said.
Some Democrats from industrial states, particularly coal-producing states (including Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.), 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 42-56, the motion to allow Whitehouse’s amendment was rejected. Every Republican present voted against the motion. Of Democrats present, 40 voted for the motion (including the most progressive members) and 15 voted against it. The end result is that the motion to allow the Whitehouse-Boxer amendment to go forward was defeated and the bill went forward without language that would have prohibited climate change legislation from being considered under the reconciliation process unless some conditions were met. Johanns’ amendment was later adopted (see vote 126).