In a strong vote Wednesday the Senate firmly rejected President Obama's plan to try to push through a carbon emissions cap-and-trade program through fast-track procedures, making clear that getting any bill done this year will be a struggle.
The Senate voted 67-31 to pass an amendment that says Congress should not try to force cap-and-trade through under the budget "reconciliation" process. While not binding on the final House-Senate agreement, the strong statement on a Republican-sponsored amendment does go a long way toward tying Congress' hands.
"It says the budget reconciliation process will not be used to pass climate change," said Sen. Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican, who sponsored the amendment.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, who opposed the amendment, said there was no reason to tie Congress' hands when it comes to fighting global warming.
"Why would we want to start down this road, taking a legal Senate procedure off the table?" she said.
The reconciliation process allows major revenue items to pass under rules requiring only a majority vote, which would short-circuit senators' right to filibuster.
In his budget Mr. Obama had called for including cap-and-trade as part of reconciliation, though neither the House or Senate followed through in their blueprints. Still, Republicans feared that when the House and Senate negotiators get together to write a compromise budget they would add the language back in.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday's vote "slammed the door shut" for good.
The cap-and-trade vote was tough for many Democrats, torn between home-state concerns and their party base's wishes.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, whose home state could be hard-hit by the economic effects of a cap-and-trade program, has opposed some earlier efforts on the issue. But on Wednesday he voted against Republicans' amendment, and afterwards went up to Mrs. Boxer on the floor and told her the news. She thanked him, but his vote was swamped by 26 Democrats who broke ranks to
Two Democrats, Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, first voted against Republicans' amendment. But when it became clear it was going to pass with overwhelming support they switched.
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