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Reid Opts to Pursue Narrow Energy Bill Next Week

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sought Thursday to blame Republicans for his decision to officially scrap plans for a broad-based climate change measure this month, but the Nevada Democrat said he still intends to bring up a narrow bill focused on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill next week.

But some Members of the Democratic Conference were clearly disappointed that the chamber was passing up a debate on capping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

“I don’t give up yet on the next two weeks,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said upon exiting a caucus meeting at which Reid outlined his plans.

Reid said he made the decision in consultation with President Barack Obama and the 59-Member Democratic Conference.

“Many of us want to do a thorough comprehensive bill,” Reid told reporters. “Unfortunately, at this time we don’t have a single Republican to work with.”

Although the majority of the Democratic Conference supports addressing climate change in a broad bill, Reid did not mention that nearly a dozen Democratic Senators have expressed doubts about taking up any climate change measure that would cap carbon emissions.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, one of the chief proponents of pursuing a greenhouse gas emissions cap, said Reid has promised that the Massachusetts Democrat’s bill could still come up this year if Kerry can find the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster.

Reid “is committed to giving us that opportunity over the next weeks, days, months — whatever it takes” to get to 60 votes, Kerry said. He said he understands Reid’s decision because the Senate has an “obligation to respond” to the oil spill in the Gulf, but both Kerry and Reid said the narrower bill does not replace efforts to address climate change.

The packed Senate schedule, which includes a must-pass supplemental war spending bill and the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, added to Reid’s difficulty in making good on his promise to debate energy and climate change.

“Given the time constraints, this is probably a realistic decision on his part,” Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman said. The New Mexico Democrat had been pushing to at least take up his larger energy measure, which would not cap emissions but would institute a renewable electricity standard and provide other incentives for alternative fuels.

Instead, Reid decided to push a bill that would raise oil spill liability caps, increase the use of natural gas vehicles, create a new energy efficiency program called “Home Star” and provide more funding for the land and water conservation fund.

Reid expressed confidence that his narrower bill would be able to garner 60 votes and said he would not be moving it if he did not believe it would be a bipartisan effort. However, Republicans have repeatedly blocked Democratic attempts in the past few months to increase oil spill liability caps, so the outlook for the legislation next week is uncertain.

Besides Brown, Sen. Bob Casey noted that “a lot of people” were disappointed that a broader package would not see floor action this work period, and that despite a lack of success so far, Members would continue trying to hatch an agreement on climate change legislation.

“Our leader and the White House have made a determination we don’t have the votes. We don’t have the time to do something more comprehensive,” the Pennsylvania Democrat said after the lunch. “This is the best we can do now, but we have to continue to work.”

Sen. Ben Nelson, who opposes carbon caps, gave the thumbs-up to Reid’s outline, saying, “It would have been gone without saying that there would be efforts to add to it in the future.”

“The discussion was very serious, and so the mood was very serious,” the Nebraska Democrat said. “There are obviously people who would like to see a much broader based energy-climate change bill than will be coming out at this point in time.”

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