WASHINGTON - Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a global warming bill that would have required major reductions in greenhouse gases, after a bitter debate over its economic costs and whether it would substantially raise gasoline and other energy prices.
Democratic leaders fell a dozen votes short of getting the 60 needed to end a Republican filibuster on the measure and bring the bill up for a vote. The 48-36 vote failed to reach even a majority, a disappointment to the bill's supporters.
Majority Leader Harry Reid was expected to pull the legislation, in all likelihood pushing the congressional debate over climate change to next year with a new Congress and a new president.
The bill would have capped carbon dioxide coming from power plants, refineries and factories, with a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent by mid-century.
"It's a huge tax increase," argued Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a prominent coal-producing state. He maintained that the proposed system of allowing widespread trading of carbon emissions allowances would produce "the largest restructuring of the American economy since the New Deal."
McCain, Obama reportedly backed
Supporters of the bill accused Republicans of muddying the water with misinformation.
"There is no tax increase," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., one of the bill's chief sponsors said. She said the emissions trading system would provide tax relief to help people pay energy prices. And supporters disputed that it would substantially increase gasoline prices.
Four Democrats joined most Republicans in essentially killing the bill.
Both presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, were absent, although supporters of the bill said they had sent letters advising they would have voted for the bill.
The legislation had been in trouble from the start.
A GOP filibuster threat prevented Democrats from moving quickly at the beginning of the week to consider amendments. On Wednesday, the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, required that all 492 pages be read into the record - an almost unheard of move that took 8 1/2 hours, ending at 9:45 p.m.
McConnell said he did so because of a dispute over judicial nominations. Reid saw it as stonewalling and an attempt to scuttle the legislation. He moved to essentially block Republican amendments on the bill and set the Friday deadline.
Republican tried to sell bill
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said he had "done the best I can" to get the message out to fellow Republicans to support the bill on national security grounds. About five Republicans had agreed to join him.
But some Democrats who had indicted they would back the bill with some changes drop away after it became clear they would not have a chance to offer their amendments.
McConnell blamed Reid for cutting off GOP opportunities to offer amendments and insisted Republicans were ready to consider the legislation for weeks. The Senate spent five weeks on the Clean Air Act in 1990, an equally complex bill, he said.
"We welcome this debate," McConnell told reporters. "If this is the most important issue facing the planet, it is ludicrous to think we're going to do this in four days with no amendments."
Democrats countered that Republicans all along had sought to undermine the bill, which most GOP senators strongly oppose.
"You can't have a more important issue to be dealing with on the floor of the Senate," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Taking aim Republicans, he said the deliberations had been "reduced to trickery and gimmicks and parliamentary games."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who is a key sponsor, bemoaned the legislation's "unnatural ending."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.