This Week in the Congress

by Myron Ebell on April 2, 2011

in Blog, Features, Politics

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House Ready To Pass Upton Bill Next Week

The House has scheduled H. R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, for floor debate and passage on Wednesday, 6th April.  This could still slip given the wrangling that is going on between the House and the Senate over the Continuing  Resolution to fund the federal government for the rest of FY 2011 after the current CR runs out on 8th April.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton’s (R-Mich.) bill will pass easily with over 250 votes.  That most likely includes all 241 Republicans and 12 to 20 Democrats.

The Rules Committee has not yet met to decide which amendments will be in order.  Conservative Republicans in the Republican Study Committee are considering offering several amendments to strengthen the bill.

H. R. 910 as marked up by the Energy and Commerce Committee prohibits the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but does not prohibit the Administration from using other existing statutes to regulate emissions.  Nor does it ban common law nuisance lawsuits against emitters of greenhouse gases, such as power plants, manufacturers, railroads, airlines, and cement producers.

Thus one obvious amendment would be to ban common law nuisance suits.  The Supreme Court is currently considering such a case.  It may find that such suits may proceed, but even if it does not it could do so for the wrong reason—namely, that the EPA is regulating emissions and has thereby pre-empted common law.

Democrats led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) will undoubtedly offer some of the same silly, irrelevant grandstanding amendments that they offered in committee.  Waxman was reported this week as expressing confidence that the bill has no chance in the Senate.

That was certainly true of his Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the last Congress.  One significant difference is that Waxman-Markey barely passed the House, 219-212.  The Upton-Whitfield bill will pass by a much wider margin.

Moreover, cap-and-trade was swimming against strong public opposition, while blocking EPA’s attempt to achieve cap-and-trade through the regulatory backdoor is swimming with public opinion.  That’s why, for example, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is still undecided about voting for the McConnell amendment (which is identical to the Senate version of H. R. 910) in the Senate.  She doesn’t want to vote for it, but she’d like to be re-elected in 2012.

Will the Senate Ever Vote on the McConnell Amendment?

The Senate spent another week without voting on Senator Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) amendment to block EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or either of the two Democratic alternatives.  It is quite possible that there will be votes next week.  It is also quite possible that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will work out a deal with McConnell to dispose of many of the amendments to the underlying bill without votes and proceed to passage of the Small Business Innovation Research Re-Authorization Act.  Or Reid may keep stalling.

McConnell originally introduced his amendment (#183 if you’re keeping track) to S. 493 on 15th March.  It is identical to Senator James M. Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) Energy Tax Prevention Act, S. 482, which is identical to the House bill of the same name, H. R. 910.

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced an amendment to try to provide cover for fellow Democrats and thereby siphon support from McConnell’s amendment.  Rockefeller would delay EPA regulations for two years.

That hasn’t gained much support, so Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced another amendment that would codify EPA regulation of major emitters, but permanently exempt minor emitters, such as small businesses, farms, and ranches.  The American Farm Bureau Federation’s strong opposition has discredited the case for Baucus’s amendment.

The wrangling has gone on for so long that a third Democratic amendment, combining some of the worst aspects of the two other Democratic amendments, was introduced this week by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).  Her amendment has fallen flat, too.

Should the Senate vote on the McConnell amendment, it looks to have the support of all 47 Republicans and three Democrats—Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.  That makes 50.  Because of the Senate rules on non-germane amendments, passage requires 60 votes.

That’s not going to happen, but I think it’s important that they get at least 51 votes.  That would demonstrate majority support and would give Reid problems in trying to keep it from being introduced as a germane amendment to other bills.  There appears to be only a couple more possible Democratic votes in favor—Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.  Both are up for re-election in 2012.

 

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