Climate Bill Faces Long Odds in the Senate

Energy Bill - Capitol dome with electric plug, gas pump, and prices AP / CBS

A climate and energy bill being pushed in the Senate faces bleak prospects, despite President Barack Obama's call for a "clean energy" future that lessens dependence on oil and other fossil fuels.

A day after the president's Oval Office speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reiterated that his party remains unanimous in its opposition to what he called a national energy tax.

Even one of the bill's likely supporters said the measure does not have enough votes to pass.

"You know, it would take 60 votes in the Senate to do that," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "I doubt very much whether those 60 votes exist right now."

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

In an appearance Wednesday on Fox News, McConnell said Obama and congressional Democrats were "holding the Gulf hostage to a national energy tax" they have long been seeking.

"They call it a climate bill. What it is is a national energy tax," McConnell said.

The climate bill, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., would tax carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired power plants and other large polluters, as a way to reduce pollution blamed for global warming. Dubbed the American Power Act, the measure aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and by more than 80 percent by 2050.

The bill would cost American households an average of $79 to $146 per year, the Environmental Protection Agency said in an analysis this week.

Some liberal commentators and environmental groups criticized Obama for failing to endorse a cap on carbon emissions in his speech Tuesday night.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said Obama's speech reiterated his call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation to break the nation's dependence on fossil fuels. The president will be reach out next week to senators on both sides of the aisle to chart a path forward, LaBolt said.

"We're open to good ideas from all sources and will be working with senators on a comprehensive proposal," LaBolt said Wednesday. "The tragedy in the Gulf underscores the need to move quickly, and the president is committed to finding the votes for comprehensive energy legislation this year."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid emphasized that he will need Republican support for the legislation, which Democrats hope to bring to the Senate floor next month.

"This legislation can only be passed if Republicans decide to work with us and demonstrate that they share our serious commitment to building a 21st-century energy strategy for America," Reid said in a statement.

Those votes may not be easy to find. The bill's sole Republican backer, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, withdrew his support last month, saying it is impossible to pass the legislation in the current political climate.

An indication of the bill's prospects came Tuesday as the Senate killed an attempt to repeal lucrative tax breaks enjoyed by the oil and gas industry.

The move by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would have raised $35 billion over 10 years by limiting the ability of oil companies to write off drilling expenses and eliminating other tax deductions for domestic production of oil and gas.

Despite the industry's current political problems caused by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the measure was defeated 61-35. Twenty-one Democrats joined 39 Republicans in opposing the measure. Among those voting no was Lieberman, the co-sponsor of the climate bill.
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