This morning, June 6, 2008, for the first time, a majority of the United States Senate signalled its support for mandatory climate action and, in particular, greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade.
Specifically, the Senate voted on whether to end debate (i.e., to "invoke cloture") on the Boxer substitute to S.3036, the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, a bill that would establish a GHG cap-and-trade program and other measures to reduce U.S. GHG emissions. Had the motion passed, the Senate would have moved to a post-cloture debate on the bill, followed by a vote on the substitute itself. The motion received only 48 votes, with 36 voting against, falling short of the 60 votes required to invoke cloture. In addition to the 48 yes votes, six Senators who were absent – including presumptive presidential nominees McCain (R-AZ) and Obama (D-IL) – entered statements into the record saying they would have voted for cloture had they been present.
Not every vote for this procedural question can be read as support for the bill itself. In particular, 10 of the Democrats who voted for cloture shortly afterwards sent a letter to Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Boxer (D-CA) stating their opposition to the bill in its current form and listing the issues that would need to be resolved to win their support. Nevertheless, it is generally understood that the 54 Senators put themselves on record in support of greenhouse gas cap-and-trade. Moreover, seven of the Senators who either voted against cloture or remained silent on the vote have either cosponsored or voted for previous GHG cap-and-trade bills.
Today's vote shows that the next President will come to office with a majority of support in the Senate for GHG cap-and-trade, and very possibly with the 60 votes needed for passage for the right bill.
The Senate debate on the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill (S.3036) began in earnest yesterday, June 3, 2008. While the process forward is not yet clear, and there were no votes held, Senators rehearsed arguments for and against the bill, and announced their intention to offer several amendments.
The following Senators spoke in favor of the bill: Senators Boxer (D-CA), Lieberman (ID-CT), Warner (R-VA), Casey (D-PA), Dole (R-NC), Feinstein (D-CA), Kerry (D-MA), Sanders (I-VT), Snowe (R-ME). It is worth noting that Sens. Dole and Warner did not vote for the Lieberman-McCain cap-and-trade bill in 2003 and 2005.
The following Senators spoke strongly against the bill: Senators Inhofe (R-OK), Barrasso (R-WY), Corker (R-TN), Craig (R-ID), Domenici (R-NM), Enzi (R-WY), Grassley (R-IA).
Other Senators—Alexander (R-TN), Gregg (R-NH), and Specter (R-PA)—acknowledged the need to take climate action but spoke against the bill in its current form. These senators described changes they would like make to the bill and indicated forthcoming amendments to do so. However, it is not clear whether these Senators would vote for the bill if amended as they desire. It is worth noting that Sen. Gregg voted for the Lieberman-McCain bill in 2003 and 2005.
These Senators discussed the following amendments:
Last night, the Senate began debate on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 (S.3036). This is the first time that greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade legislation has proceeded through regular order—that is, through the committee process, and potentially to votes on the Senate floor. A previous version of this bill, then designated as S.2191, was passed 11-8 by the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee in December 2007. The legislation currently under debate has been extensively revised from the version of the Act passed by the EPW Committee.
If enacted into law, the bill would establish a market-based GHG cap-and-trade program in the United States, and establish other measures to reduce GHG emissions. Most observers consider it unlikely that the Senate will pass the bill this year. To win final passage, it would not only have to garner a simple majority of 51 votes, but also attract the 60 votes needed to break the threat of a filibuster which would likely follow any motion to report it out of the Senate. Moreover, President Bush has promised to veto S.3036 should it ever reach his desk. Nevertheless, the bill's proponents —led by Senators Boxer (D-CA), Lieberman (ID-CT), Warner (R-VA), and Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV)—are seeking a result that shows the Senate is ready to pass legislation to reduce GHG emissions, even if S.3036 falls short this year. Proponents of the bill will be speaking to two audiences in the coming debate—the public and other Senators—with the goal of convincing them that the costs of the bill will be minimal compared to the benefits of changing the way the United States uses energy, and avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.
Opponents of cap-and-trade, and of GHG emissions mandates—led by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK)—are hoping for an opposite result. They joined proponents in voting Monday night (June 2, 2008) to allow the bill to inch through the Senate process, and then insisted on the 30 hours of debate due to them under Senate rules before amendments to the bill can even be considered. They will use this time to cast climate change legislation in the most unfavorable light possible. Today (Tuesday) will see opponents decrying the bill for its supposed disastrous effects on the economy, and as a measure which is ill-considered in a time of rising gasoline prices and possible recession.
Where the process goes from here is yet unclear. The current version of Lieberman-Warner has been in circulation for just over a week. A number of Senators who support action on climate change are still familiarizing themselves with its provisions and not guaranteed to vote for it. Only after gauging their support will Reid and the other leaders decide their strategy. This will probably be developed sometime today, though may not be made clear to the public before Wednesday or Thursday.