Skip to content

Inhofe Fumes Over Use of the ‘Nuclear Option’

Senate Democrats and Republicans continued their partisan staring match over climate change Tuesday, with Democrats beginning largely ceremonial committee markup sessions, while the GOP accused them of undermining the chamber’s very foundations.

As promised, Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) began the markup of her climate change bill without Republicans, who are boycotting the proceedings because Boxer has refused to ask the Environmental Protection Agency for a new full-scale analysis of the legislation’s effects.

Boxer held an afternoon session with members of the EPA present to discuss the economic effects of the bill, then briefly gaveled a second “markup— session to order. Sitting alone in the committee room, Boxer brought the symbolic briefing to a close after a few minutes, announcing that she would resume work Wednesday morning.

Republicans denounced Boxer’s efforts to mark up the bill. Ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) dubbed the decision to conduct the markup without Republicans a “nuclear option— and charged that Boxer was “destroying the integrity of the committee system. We have committees for a reason.—

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), an EPW member, accused Boxer and Democrats of attempting to force through a “Washington slush fund.—

“We want to participate in any clean energy bill, but we’re not willing to do that until we know what it costs,— Alexander said. “We’re not about to begin to vote on a national energy tax that collects hundreds of billions of dollars and puts in a Washington slush fund and starts handing it out all around the country without knowing exactly the consequences of that.—

Although there have reportedly been some efforts at the staff level to find a way forward, particularly between Democrats and more moderate members such as Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), by late Tuesday neither Boxer nor Inhofe seemed inclined to budge.

“We are not going to do anything until we have the comprehensive analysis,— Inhofe vowed following Boxer’s brief afternoon attempt at a markup.

Boxer sounded equally resolute, arguing that “we are working at reporting this bill out of committee.— She said GOP complaints about a lack of sufficient analysis of the bill were without merit. “When you’re faced with an issue that is unreal, you need to be honest,— Boxer said. “They have an unreal issue.—

Chummy Past

The spat stands in marked contrast to the chummy relationship Boxer has enjoyed with most of the panel’s Republicans on a host of infrastructure bills she has moved over the past three years. Indeed, while many in both parties were originally wary that their partisan tendencies could gridlock the committee, Boxer and Inhofe enjoyed a fairly successful partnership — at least until now.

When asked if the spat would hurt their efforts to pass a new transportation bill, Inhofe said “no.— “I don’t think so. We’re on the same side on that. … You guys [in the press] don’t believe it, but we have a good relationship.—

Likewise, Boxer said there has been no impact on their relationship from the climate fight. “We’re personally very friendly. This is just a difference of opinion. They don’t want a climate bill.—

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), who has worked closely with Boxer and Inhofe on the transportation bill, said that despite their passions, members of the committee are able to separate their work on partisan issues such as climate policy and infrastructure bills or other less heated areas.

“We know we don’t always agree,— Bond said. “That’s the beauty of this place. If you could never work with people you don’t agree with, it’d be an awfully lonely place.—

But Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one moderate Senate Republican targeted as a possible supporter of an eventual climate compromise, warned that the climate fight appears to be part of a broader partisan schism that has deeply divided the chamber and made bipartisanship difficult.

Pointing to the health care and climate debates, Collins warned that “the polarization in this Congress is the worst I’ve ever seen it and is affecting our ability to work together.—