Climate bill stalls in Senate

June 5, 2008 9:58:25 AM PDT
A Senate debate over a bill to combat global warming came to a halt Wednesday after Republicans demanded a reading of the 492-page document because of a partisan dispute over judicial nominations. The partisan squabble spilled over to a disagreement over how many amendments should be allowed, threatening to cut short likely consideration of the legislation once it gets back on track.

Senate clerks read into the evening hours as both sides mapped out their next move, once the reading was to be concluded, sometime before midnight.

The bill, the most ambitious legislation on global warming ever taken up in Congress, would cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent by mid-century from power plants, refineries, factories and transportation.

Its sponsors said the mandatory reductions are essential to put the United States in a leadership role in global attempts to head off dangerous climate change. But Republican critics said it would result in higher energy costs and economic turmoil.

After an agreement to bring the legislation up for action, Republicans turned down requests that a reading of the bill not be required, a procedure that is routine.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he directed the delaying action because the Democratic majority had failed to approve the appointment of three federal judges before Memorial Day as had been promised.

"We hate to hold up the climate bill," McConnell told reporters, indicating he was ready to go back to the bill, once his point had been made about the judges. He said Republicans had a number of amendments for the bill.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused the Republicans of obstruction and "doing everything in their power to slow, stop and stall" on urgent legislation to address global warming.

A Reid spokesman, Jim Manley, blamed Republicans for not getting two of the judicial nominations out of the Judiciary Committee and said a third judge, in fact, had been approved. Reid's pledge was based on "Republican cooperation" that he did not get, said Manley.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a lead co-sponsor of the climate bill, said the GOP was "just stalling this bill. ... All they want to do is kill this bill."

The climate bill's supporters include most Democrats and a handful of Republicans. Along with Boxer, the leading sponsors are Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va. It has been the subject of Senate floor debate since Monday, but senators have done little more than talk so far.

Reid had said he wanted the bill finished by early next week, but aides said he may now move to significantly limit amendments and bring the issue to a close as early as Friday.

If so, he would need 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster and move to a final vote, something senators on both sides say he is unlikely to get. If he fails, Reid would likely withdraw the bill, leaving the issue for next year with a new president and a new Congress.

Some Republicans complained Monday that Reid was maneuvering to prevent Republicans from offering their amendments and was trying to push through a huge and complex bill in a matter of days with inadequate debate.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., noted that when Congress took up changes in the Clean Air Act in 1990 -- an equally complex piece of legislation -- the Senate took five weeks before passing it.

"This legislation is far reaching. It is economy wide," Domenici said.


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