CLIMATE: On road to 60, Senate swells with fence sitters October 21, 2009Posted by Laura Arnold in Uncategorized.
NOTE: Both U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) and U.S. Senator Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) are listed as “fence sitters” on the proposed comprehensive climate and energy legislation. See paragraphs below in red.
E&E Daily – 10/20/09
by Darren Samuelsohn, E&E senior reporter
The fence is getting a bit more crowded.
Despite two significant moves over the last month — a bill introduction and the emergence of a possible bipartisan partnership — the number of senators unwilling to commit to voting for comprehensive climate and energy legislation continues to grow.
According to E&E’s latest analysis, 24 senators now belong in the “fence sitter” category that leaves them up for grabs headed into the winter push for 60 votes that sponsors will need to overcome an expected Republican filibuster.
Here’s the good news for climate advocates: E&E now finds that at least 67 senators are in play on the issue, enough not only to pass the climate bill but also to ratify an international treaty should sponsors actually run the boards and not lose a single member.
For starters, the bill’s lead sponsors, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), can safely rely on 31 “yes” votes as they work on building their coalition. That list includes Ben Cardin of Maryland, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Tom Udall of New Mexico. All appeared at a Capitol Hill campaign-style rally last month during the public unveiling of the legislation, S. 1733.
Another 12 senators fall into the “probably yes” camp, from Michael Bennet of Colorado to Al Franken of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia. Bennet and Warner are not slam dunks given the fossil fuel interests in their home states, while Franken dropped off the “yes” list when he signed a letter with nine other Democrats in August that raised concerns about President Obama’s stance against trade sanctions on carbon-intensive goods from developing countries that do not have strong enough climate policies (E&ENews PM, Aug. 6).
As for the fence sitters, the list continues to swell from both directions as key senators hedge their bets.
For example, Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) no longer reside in the “probably yes” camp given their recent statements on allocations and oversight of the carbon markets, respectively. Baucus may drive the hardest bargain as chairman of the Finance Committee, where he is sure to negotiate on behalf of coal-state Democrats who think the House-passed bill unfairly favors electric utilities that service the East and West coasts.
Two senators have recently been upgraded to the fence from the “probably no” camp are Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio). Byrd has long questioned action to curb emissions but has taken a lead role on carbon sequestration language that Kerry and Boxer are trying to wrap into their proposal. Voinovich has a reputation for bipartisan consensus building, and recent signals supporting the nuclear power industry are raising hopes in some sectors that the retiring senator should still be considered in play.
“If you engage in a very proactive way to get a bill done, he will negotiate and compromise,” said a former Senate Republican aide.
E&E’s analysis is based on interviews with senators, plus dozens of Democratic and Republican sources, industry and environmental groups.
GOP interest is significant for the climate bill’s overall prospects given that Democrats are unlikely to carry all 60 of their own votes on the floor.
In all, E&E now lists eight Republicans as “fence sitters” on the climate bill, with the two from Maine — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — holding firm as “probably yes” votes given their past efforts on the issue. Collins and Snowe are likely to compensate for the loss of Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the only Democrats listed among 11 “probably no” votes given their many comments questioning the environmental agenda of the Obama administration and Senate leaders.
Elsewhere, sponsors got their biggest boost when Kerry went public with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on a partnership that they had been quietly working on since the summer. The senators pledged in an Oct. 11 New York Times op-ed that they would try to find compromise on several key areas, including nuclear power, offshore drilling and a border tax on items produced in countries that avoid high environmental standards.
“I can see a way to get to 60 votes, and so can he, if we pull the right folks to the table and do this in the right way,” Kerry said last week. “And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Climate advocates are urging Kerry and Graham to turn their broad principles into legislation.
“It’s still right now just a possibility,” said Manik Roy of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. “We need to operationalize that.”
Graham’s support also may be key for other Republicans.
Jason Grumet, a former Obama presidential campaign adviser and the president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, counts as many as 10 Republicans who have been engaged in past climate debates “who are certainly poised to come back if the Graham beachhead becomes more secured.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) stands out as one leading GOP candidate to get behind a climate bill. The two-term senator co-sponsored climate legislation last year with Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) in part because of provisions designed to protect against high energy prices, as well as financial aid to Alaska for adaptation to rising seas and melting permafrost.
So far this year, Murkowski has questioned Democrats’ desires to push for a vote on the climate bill before a major U.N. climate conference this December in Copenhagen. At the same time, she said Sunday on C-SPAN that Graham’s emergence opens the door further to a number of supply-side provisions she supports, including efforts to expand nuclear power, natural gas and oil production.
“Count me as one of those who will keep my mind open as we move forward in looking at all aspects of this,” Murkowski said.
Other fence-sitting Republicans include Sen. Richard Lugar, the six-term senator who has tamped down his optimism this year in part because of unemployment in Indiana that continues to hover near double digits. Lugar said last month in an interview he remains engaged but does not like the approach taken earlier this year with H.R. 2454, the House-passed climate bill.
“I don’t know that we’ve pulled back,” Lugar said. “It’s just the formulation from the House I find objectionable on many grounds. Without jumping up and down any further, I think more constructive ways of fighting climate change can be found and I’ll be working to find it.”
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) also remains in play, with nuclear power and fiscal issues atop his list of demands. Asked last week about how the Kerry-Graham partnership could influence his vote, Gregg replied, “If nuclear comes under that and has proper incentives, that could be a major step forward.”
The party’s 2008 presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), poses a big challenge for climate bill advocates (E&E Daily, July 16). While McCain appears to be making headway in his demand for greater incentives for nuclear power, he is in direct conflict with manufacturing state Democrats and Graham, one of his close allies in last year’s White House campaign, over the border tax issue.
“I know that I’d never agree to tariffs on the borders for countries that don’t comply with our requirements,” McCain said last week.
Other big questions revolve around Florida’s new GOP senator, George LeMieux. Gov. Charlie Crist (R) appointed LeMieux, his former chief of staff, to be a caretaker to the Senate seat he hopes to win in the 2010 elections.
But Crist must succeed in a Republican primary slated for next August that so far has forced him to distance himself from past progressive views on the climate issue. Already, Crist’s opponent, Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, has garnered the endorsement of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), an outspoken opponent of global warming legislation. LeMieux’s vote will be seen as a critical test for Crist among the state’s Republican base (Greenwire, Aug. 17).
The fence also includes moderate Democrats from all corners of the country, some more actively engaged in the climate debate than others.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, for example, is crafting language to help manufacturers (E&E Daily, Oct. 14). Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow hopes to release long-awaited agriculture ideas. And Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania will be forced to take a stand as early as next month when Boxer’s Environment and Public Works Committee holds a markup on its bill.
Other influential Democratic fence sitters include Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, who said last week that he expects to push at least four issues once the bill nears the floor.
Levin said he will be seeking a national greenhouse gas emission standard and repeal of state-specific standards. Like Franken, he said a border tax adjustment needs to be part of the bill. And Levin said he wants a “fail-safe provision in case the technologies don’t advance as quickly as some people think they will.”
“And you’ve got to fairly proportion the burden,” Levin added.
Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) also remains on the fence. The two-term senator said last week that she wants to get a better grip on the effect that a climate bill would have on farmers and in the cost of food to consumers.
“I don’t disagree with the objective, and I hope we’ll stay focused on the objective, which is to lower our greenhouse gases and emissions and our carbon output,” Lincoln said.
Lincoln in past years has cosponsored efforts to address the cost fluctuations in climate legislation. Environmental groups are banking on her and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) as key votes that get them to across the 60-vote threshold.
But an industry source tracking the climate debate doubts that Lincoln can sign off on climate legislation as she heads into a heated re-election battle next November. “No amount of National Wildlife Federation polling is going to help her in the delta,” the source said. “She has an issue.”
Election-year politics also may influence several other Democrats. Specter faces a primary challenge from his left in Rep. Joe Sestak, a campaign that has put an even larger spotlight on his vote (E&E Daily, Oct. 6).
Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) faces the same unemployment concerns as Lugar but with the added pressure of a 2010 re-election campaign. So far, Bayh has not drawn a significant challenger and political analyst Charlie Cook ranked the race earlier this month as “solid D” for the incumbent. But political observers still see Bayh as vulnerable to home-state concerns.
Other Democrats on the fence include a number of senators representing either coal-consuming or coal-producing states, including Claire McCaskill of Missouri, North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Jim Webb of Virginia. Conrad and Dorgan may be among the most difficult fence sitters to win over. Both have insisted for months that Senate leaders should start with energy-only legislation and save the big climate change measure for later.
Debating floor strategy
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has so far left open the door on a possible floor debate before the end of the year on the climate bill, but time is running short for the five committees still charged with filling in key details (E&E Daily, Oct. 16).
Committee leaders do not have any deadlines, leaving many to speculate the bill will most likely wait until early 2010 to see any floor action despite Boxer’s plans for markup in November. Boxer has said she is waiting for U.S. EPA analysis of her legislation, something agency spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said should be finished by Friday.
Environmentalists have not stopped pushing for action. While several green groups have warned of the international consequences if the Senate rejected climate legislation before the Copenhagen negotiations, advocates still want to see a floor vote that forces senators to take a stand one way or another.
“People have to understand this vote is going to happen sooner rather than later,” said David Goldston, director of government operations at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Inhofe, the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, predicts that Democrats will max out around 35 “yes” votes.
“They’re going to try to fence off people,” said Inhofe, one of 22 Republican senators E&E lists as a sure “no” on the climate bill. “We understand that. And they’ll be counting votes as they do it. But I think it’s a moving target.”
For any group that signs up for the bill, Inhofe said he thinks they are just as likely to back out. “For example,” Inhofe said, “when they tried to fence off the wheat growers, they bought into it for a short period of time, and then they said, ‘Wait a minute, this is going to be just as hard on us and somebody else.'”
Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, has a much bigger target in mind as Democratic leaders gear up for the floor. He said Reid and company should try to have a big enough cushion that they do not need to give in to every demand of every fence-sitting senator.
“Senate leaders obviously want to have more than 60 votes in play,” Weiss said.
Bit by bit, advocates for the climate bill expect a winning combination to come together. Asked for the recipe, Goldston said he does not think one compromise will do it. Instead, he said he is watching for coalitions to form on individual issues, with several degrees of overlap.
“There’s not one simple way where you get person X and you automatically get everyone else,” Goldston said. “The work still has to be done member by member.”
Climate bill supporters also say that the senators just need to be reminded that they’ve been debating many of these unresolved issues — on everything from cost containment to emission allocations, greenhouse gas targets, offsets, technological availability and international competition — dating back to the George W. Bush administration.
“The good news is the path to 60 is not particularly mysterious,” Grumet said. “The issues have been quite well defined for the last year or so.”
And that means that some of the key compromises already reached in the House may just need to be renegotiated, with some state-specific tweaks here and there.
“Everything’s been said,” Weiss added. “But not everybody’s said it.”