Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer can pass a
climate bill out of her committee without Sen. Max Baucus, but losing
the powerful moderate could set the stage for a blowout battle.
The Montana Democrat threw a bomb into the committee hearing room
Tuesday when he said he had “serious reservations” about the Democrats’
climate change bill, a statement that immediately sparked fierce
speculation that he would vote against the legislation.
Scott Segal, a lobbyist for energy companies at Bracewell &
Giuliani, said a “no” vote from Baucus — one of two moderate Democrats
on the committee — would be “a very uncomfortable signal to moderate
Democrats in many regions of the country, particularly the West, the
Midwest and the Southeast.”
Baucus himself warned Tuesday that losing his vote could cost the
Democratic leadership moderate support from across the Senate.
Democratic aides said Wednesday that a “no” vote from Baucus would slow
the momentum for the bill, which is already struggling to get oxygen as
Congress works through health care, regulatory reform and the year’s
overdue spending bills.
Boxer said she’s focused on getting a bill out of committee with as
many members as possible, even if that means leaving Baucus behind.
“I need to get the votes out of the committee, and this is the
Environment Committee, and we feel this is a very doable goal,” said
Boxer, who is in ongoing discussions with Baucus and other committee
members about the legislation.
The California Democrat stressed the importance of other committee
members, including moderate Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who played a
major role in negotiating a deal with coal-state members and is
expected to back the legislation.
“I think, actually, Tom Carper is a great signal to moderates,” said
Boxer. “[Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Arlen] Specter is a signal,
Carper’s a signal, [Minnesota Democratic Sen.] Amy [Klobuchar] is a
signal. I think they’re all important.” Committee member Bernie Sanders
(I-Vt.) also suggested that Baucus’s view wouldn’t make or break the
bill. “He is one vote, and I think 99 other people have one vote, so I
would say his vote is about as important as everyone else’s vote,”
Baucus is a particularly powerful signpost for moderate Democrats in
the Senate. The six-term Democrat is the former chairman of the
committee, and he carries major weight as an influential centrist
His post as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which controls
all revenue-raising measures, also means that he will have significant
sway over the final legislation. His committee plans to hold hearings
on the bill during the next few weeks and may do its own markup
covering the allocations system for the bill.
Baucus wants to weaken the short-term target for the legislation,
currently set at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from
2005 levels by 2020. Legislation passed by the House in early June set
a 17 percent target. President Barack Obama proposed a 14 percent
target in his budget last spring.
He’d also like to include a pre-emption provision that would stop the
Environmental Protection Agency from implementing a new rule that would
allow the agency to regulate emissions across a wide swath of
industries. And Baucus would like to see the legislation mirror the
House bill by giving the Agriculture Department authority over the
greenhouse-gas offset program, a key issue for rural members.
Coal-state senators would like a lower short-term target to give
utilities more time to develop carbon capture and sequestration
“The target’s certainly a change from where the House was, and that’s
going to be a subject of debate,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob
Boxer, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry and other supporters of
the legislation say that emissions have already dropped by about 8
percent below 2005 levels, making the higher targets more achievable.
“If we don’t get it together completely in the committee, I think we’ll
be able to resolve it on the floor,” said Carper. “I sensed good
vibrations in my conversations last week with folks who have some
reservations about 20 percent reductions by 2020.”
Not everyone was so optimistic.
“We’ll see what they put together in EPW, but I think it’s going to be
very hard for them to pass legislation unless they have substantial
discussions with moderate senators and address their concerns,” said
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.).