Climate Change Bill Loses Support

Posted April 14, 2010 at 6:47pm

The scant Republican support Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) secured last summer that proved crucial for passage of the House’s climate change bill has eroded as the midterm elections draw near — enough so that she likely would be short of votes if the same measure were on the floor today.

At least four of the eight GOP Members who voted for the climate change bill in June have since reconsidered their support and said this week that Democrats should not count on them again. Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — both moderates who are running for open Senate seats — are among those who say they now would oppose the House-passed bill and anything similar to it.

Castle, in fact, stopped just short of saying he regretted his June vote.

“What I know now is not what I knew then,” he said. After learning more about the legislation, he said, he’s become increasingly concerned about many aspects of it, most significantly about the potential adverse effects that a cap-and-trade system to curb emissions would have on businesses and the economy.

Castle said he originally voted for the legislation because he wanted to clean up the environment and aid the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The administration’s subsequent moves to embrace nuclear technology and expand offshore drilling, along with his economic concerns, have changed his mind.

“I didn’t know all those things then,” he said, adding that he would prefer the Senate not keep the issue alive by passing a bill this year.

The waning Republican support could force Pelosi to find moderate Democrats to switch from “no” to “yes” — no easy task with elections just around the corner.

The climate change bill passed the House by a slender margin of 219-212 on June 26.

Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) predicted unified GOP opposition should a climate change bill come before the House this year.

“I don’t think there’s any question that the support that the Republicans gave to that bill in the House has certainly eroded,” Cantor said. “My sense would be that they’d be hard-pressed to get any Republican support at this point.”

Mustering enough votes to enact a climate change bill before November could be difficult, both because of the hardening opposition to Democratic agenda items among Republicans, who are increasingly optimistic about their prospects for regaining the majority, and because vulnerable moderate Democrats will be wary of politically difficult votes.

Still, a Democratic leadership aide said there would be some incentive for moderate Democrats and Republicans who have already voted in favor of the bill to campaign on it as a legislative achievement. The aide noted that the Senate bill — which likely would serve as a blueprint for House-Senate negotiations — was being crafted with the goal of gaining GOP support and therefore might be more palatable to wavering moderates.

“We have been waiting on the Senate to act for some months now,” the aide said, adding that if the Senate passed a bill, “the prospects of us being able to send something to the president would be extremely high.”

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are expected to unveil their bipartisan climate change legislation next week.

Any proposal that passes the Senate almost certainly would not include many of the provisions that are most objectionable to Republicans. For example, the Senate proposal is expected to replace an economy-wide cap-and-trade system with a sector-by-sector approach.

But even a bipartisan deal in the Senate might have relatively little effect on the dynamic in the House.

Amid heavy fire from tea party activists and other conservatives after his vote for the climate change bill, Kirk sought to distance himself from the legislation in the runup to his state’s Feb. 2 primary, saying he’d determined the cap-and-trade provision that most incited conservative ire was not beneficial to Illinois because it was a threat to jobs.

Like Castle, Kirk is not eager to vote in favor of a climate change bill again this year.

“The minute I left my district, I saw the negative effect the bill would have” on jobs in manufacturing, agriculture and mining, he said.

Although he stood by his June vote, which he said “reflected the interests” of his district, Kirk said he would not vote for similar legislation.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) helped recruit Kirk to run for the Senate seat that is being vacated by Democrat Roland Burris and said he had discussed Kirk’s changed position with him. “There’s a big difference between running for the House and representing your district and running for the Senate and representing the entire state,” Cornyn said.

Two New Jersey Republicans have also reconsidered their support for the House bill.

“I would not vote for the identical proposal,” said freshman Rep. Leonard Lance, adding that he was dissatisfied with the lack of commitment to curbing emissions from countries like China and India at last year’s climate change conference in Copenhagen. “There would have to be significant revisions.”

And Rep. Chris Smith said compelling questions about the scientific assumptions underpinning the climate change bill had emerged since June. “There’s been a significant challenge to the science, and the so-called consensus doesn’t exist,” Smith said. “My hope is that we first deal with the science before we deal with anything that looks like a remedy.”

NRSC Vice Chairman Orrin Hatch (Utah) urged Kirk, Castle and any Republicans seeking re-election to competitive districts “to think about it twice” before supporting Democrats’ proposals to curb climate change and predicted support for such legislation would continue to decline.

“The more people look at it, the more they realize it’s going to cost an arm and a leg, and it’s going to be very expensive, on top of everything else that is expensive,” Hatch said. “And it will kill jobs, no question about it.”

The June vote is already causing problems for Rep. Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), a self-proclaimed “moderate Republican,” who is now facing a primary challenge from conservative Clayton Thibodeau because of her a vote for the climate change bill.

One of the eight original GOP backers — New York Rep. John McHugh — resigned from Congress in September to become secretary of the Army. However, that move likely doesn’t make the math any harder for Democrats, who picked up the seat in a special election.

Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who played a pivotal role in securing the votes of moderate lawmakers for the House’s climate change bill last year, said there’s still “some chance” of the House being able to pass a compromise bill if the Senate can act. But he added, “I don’t think they can get anything out of the Senate.”

However, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a moderate who negotiated a key compromise in the Energy and Commerce Committee with Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), said he’s hopeful the bipartisan negotiations in the Senate will bear fruit.

“I’m encouraged by the fact there’s a conversation going on between Lindsey Graham and John Kerry,” Boucher said.

Boucher said that if Graham gets most of what he is asking for in the negotiations, it could bring additional industry support to the bill, particularly from coal interests. And with more support from coal country, there are some Members who voted “no” the first time around who might be willing to support it, Boucher said.

“I think it would be well-received here,” Boucher said.

Graham said he remains optimistic that the Senate can tap into enough bipartisan sentiment to entice at least some Republican support down the road in the House.

“Here’s what we’ve learned: If you do something like the House did, you’re not going to get any Republicans or moderate Democrats,” Graham said. “So that’s the goal — to get something that can get them.”

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.