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Most GOP Climate Caucus Members Back Anti-Carbon Tax Measure

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., pictured here, says his vote against a carbon tax is not inconsistent with his membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., pictured here, says his vote against a carbon tax is not inconsistent with his membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Only six of the more than 40 Republicans in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus voted against a GOP resolution opposing a carbon tax policy Thursday.

The climate-conscious Republicans who voted for the resolution (H Con Res 119) had a ready reason for what might appear to be an inconsistent vote: They don’t favor the generic carbon tax that the measure frames.

The House agreed, 229-180, to the resolution, with seven Democrats joining the majority of Republicans. But six GOP lawmakers did buck their party on the vote, including: Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., Mia Love, R-Utah, Francis Rooney, R-Fla., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. Reps. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., voted present.

Backed by Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., the “sense of the Congress” resolution describes a carbon tax as something under which “American families will be harmed the most,” a policy that “will increase the cost of every good manufactured in the United States,” according to the resolution text.

“I have never been a fan of the carbon tax, so my vote is consistent,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and a Climate Caucus member.

Upton’s vote fit the status quo for House Republicans. On a similar resolution in 2016, 231 Republicans and six Democrats opposed a carbon tax. Since then, the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group dedicated to finding solutions to address the threat of climate change, has ballooned to nearly 90 members — more than 20 percent of the chamber’s total membership, with an equal number of members from both parties.

But the resolution does not address the so-called dividend approach that most carbon tax advocates support. While any tax on carbon would raise the cost of a wide range of consumer and industrial goods, the dividend approach — favored by a group of high-profile Republicans from previous administrations as well as many business groups — would return much of the revenue to taxpayers, either directly in the form of cash dividends or indirectly in the form of additional services.

For Republicans who have embraced such an approach, like Curbelo, the co-chairman of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, the vote wrongly pits the environment against economic growth. Those pursuits “are not mutually exclusive,” Curbelo said in a statement.

“The resolution presents a false choice,” Curbelo said. “While I agree a carbon tax on its own would not be the best way forward and could have negative effects on the economy, there are smarter, more innovative solutions that would not only reduce carbon emissions and mitigate for the effects they have on our planet, but also grow the economy and provide opportunities for American workers and businesses at home and abroad.”

The Climate Leadership Council, a group led by Republican elder statesmen, advocates for what it calls a carbon fee combined with a dividend and reduced EPA oversight of carbon emissions. It’s been working to win over skeptical lawmakers and grow support for such policies on Capitol Hill.

Greg Bertelsen, a senior vice president with the group, said the House’s nonbinding resolution doesn’t describe the dividends proposal.

Bertelsen said the group’s proposal is “pro-growth, pro-competitiveness, pro-national security, pro-worker and pro-environment” and that it “would ensure that middle- and low-income families come out furthest ahead.” It would also shrink the size of the government while giving manufacturers certainty about regulation of carbon emissions, he said.

“That is a policy that members from both sides of the aisle can support, and we know it’s a policy that the American people support,” Bertelsen said.

Democrats echoed the concerns about advancing a resolution that does not address proposals to reflect the environmental cost of carbon in the marketplace.

“It’s a completely made-up issue,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said of the anti-carbon tax resolution. “There is no bill that they have had a hearing on. If you look at the carbon taxes that have been introduced, and I mentioned one that I have, none of this applies.”

While the resolution would not affect policy outside of symbolic messaging, it will put members of the House on the record for their views on this basic form of a carbon tax.

“There are still people talking about trying to impose a carbon tax, which would be devastating to our manufacturing economy, one of the great bright spots we see in our economy, where we’re bringing jobs back to America, rebuilding our middle class,” Scalise said Tuesday at a GOP leadership news conference. “A carbon tax would destroy that.”

“So we’re going to have everybody go on record with a resolution to oppose a carbon tax,” he said.

Conservative groups, like the American Energy Alliance and the Heartland Institute, have voiced similar concerns about a carbon tax. In a July 9 letter to House Republican leadership, a collection of 19 such groups called for a floor vote on the resolution to highlight for voters “whether their elected representative support the implementation of a new tax on the energy they rely on every single day.”

And in an indirect jab at groups like the Climate Leadership Council, the groups accused “recent attempts to market several carbon tax policy proposals as ‘conservative’” as containing “striking similarities” to those of “liberal members of Congress.”

Major oil companies like Exxon Mobil have embraced a carbon tax to address the global climate change problem.

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