- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

In a bipartisan rejection of one of President Obama’s key budget proposals, the Senate voted Wednesday to prevent Democrats from using fast-track procedures to push through a plan to combat greenhouse gases.

The vote underscores the divisions among Democrats on a “cap-and-trade” approach to global warming, which many lawmakers argue would put coal-producing states at a disadvantage.

By a 67-31 vote - with 26 Democrats joining all 41 Republicans - the Senate overwhelmingly approved an amendment by Sen. Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican, that would preserve Republicans’ ability to filibuster any attempt to impose a cap-and-trade system. Fast-tracked budget legislation requires only a simple majority to pass.

Although the Senate’s budget panel scrapped the idea in its version of Mr. Obama’s budget, many senators feared that it could be added to the plan later in negotiations with the House.

“Tonight, an overwhelming majority of the U.S. Senate slammed the door on using the fast-track process to jam through a new national energy tax,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “This is good news for families, taxpayers and job creators.”

In other votes, the Senate agreed to fully fund Mr. Obama’s request for foreign aid, adding $4 billion back to the Senate version of the bill.

And senators unanimously agreed to add $550 million to hire 2,000 new law enforcement agents on the troubled U.S.-Mexico border. Senate sponsors said Mr. Obama’s plan to shift several hundred agents from elsewhere in the country was insufficient and would take away from law enforcement in the rest of the country.

“We have to replace them and still beef up our presence,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.

Mr. Obama proposed a $3.7 trillion budget for 2010, but Democrats in both chambers have trimmed down the spending while rejecting some of the president’s key priorities. The budget would not extend Mr. Obama’s middle-class tax cut after two years and restores some of his proposed cuts to farm subsidies.

Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, said he wasn’t surprised by the vote tally on the Johanns amendment.

“You always have to be cautious about drawing too large a conclusion from votes like this on a budget resolution,” Mr. Conrad said. “But I think it does signal the sentiment of the body on the question of reconciliation with respect to climate change.”

Meanwhile, the House started debate on its version of the budget Wednesday and is expected to start voting Thursday on several alternatives from Republicans as well as from the conservative, black and progressive caucuses.

Republicans in the Senate did not offer an official alternative budget - opting instead to seek changes to the Democratic version through the amendment process. But Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, introduced his own budget late Wednesday.

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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