Climate Bill Moves Forward in Senate

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., left, delivers his opening remarks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on clean energy jobs. Seated behind him, from left are, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Energy Secretary Steven Chu. AP

Updated 12:07 p.m. ET

Senate Democrats sidestepped a Republican boycott Thursday, pushing a U.S. climate bill out of committee in an early step on a long and contentious road to passage.

At least five other committees still must weigh-in on the measure, but the partisan antics early on threatened to cast a pall over the bill — one of President Barack Obama's top priorities. While the measure makes its way to the Senate floor, nations are preparing to meet in Copenhagen, Denmark next month to hammer out a new international treaty to slow climate change.

In June, the House narrowly passed its version of the bill, which must be reconciled with whatever measure the Senate approves.

Another complication is that the Senate measure must garner 60 votes in the 100-member chamber in order to ward off Republican delaying tactics.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, had delayed the crucial committee vote for days because of a Republican protest over whether the cost of the legislation had been fully examined. But the California Democrat moved quickly to pass the bill Thursday, which for the first time would set mandatory limits on heat-trapping gases, without any of the seven Republican senators on the panel present. The measure cleared the panel on a 11-1 vote.

Boxer said the Republican demand for more analysis was "duplicative and waste of taxpayer dollars."

"Advancing the bill is a necessary step on the road to garnering the 60 votes we need," said Boxer, who introduced the bill along with Sen. John Kerry in late September. "We are pleased that despite the Republican boycott, we have had the will to move this bill forward."

In the hopes of broadening support, Kerry, a Democrat, announced Wednesday he was working with independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and the White House to secure votes for a climate bill.

Sen. James Inhofe, the top Republican on the committee, implored the panel to not proceed with what he called strong arm tactics minutes before the vote. He left shortly after making his statement.

Of the 11 Democrats present at the vote, only one — Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat — voted against the legislation, saying that concerns he had with the bill were not fully addressed.

Baucus specifically cited the bill's call for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. He said he would like to see that target lowered to 17 percent, with a trigger to raise it to 20 percent if other countries adopted similar measures.

"I am going work to get climate legislation that can get 60 votes through the U.S. Senate and signed into law," Baucus said.

To move the bill out of committee without Republicans present meant the Democrats could not amend the legislation, and many Democrats on the panel expressed disappointment that they did not have a chance to improve the bill.
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