Boxer Okays Senate Climate Bill, Without Amendments or GOP

The Senate environment committee approved its climate change bill today on an 11-1 vote, shrugging off a boycott by all of the panel's Republicans but missing out on the chance to consider amendments to the lengthy legislation.

070619_boxer.jpgSen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (Photo: AP)

The environment panel's chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had offered Republicans several days to abandon their walkout, promising time to consider GOP amendments and a complete Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) modeling of the bill before it comes to the Senate floor.

But environment committee Republicans were unmoved, insisting on an immediate five-week delay for EPA analysis despite testimony from the EPA that such work would produce little new information. Boxer's GOP counterpart on the panel, Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), seemed to delight in forcing the chairman's hand as he labeled the no-amendments move the "nuclear option."

The question now becomes whether the specific proposals added by Boxer's panel -- including grant programs for transit and clean transportation that nearly triple the funding approved by the House -- can survive a long slog through as many as five other committees.

Boxer insisted this morning that "many things in this bill ... are going to be part of that comprehensive bill" that ultimately reaches a full Senate vote. But others on the committee acknowledged that the bill's one-party approval would not bode well for its political prospects.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the chief sponsor of efforts to boost the climate bill's clean transportation provisions, described himself as "very, very, very disappointed," particularly given the loss of a chance to amend the legislation.

Carper submitted an amendment that would have added more than $400 million to the bill's annual set-aside of climate money for transit, inter-city rail, local land use planning and other projects.  "I don't like this process," Carper said this morning. "I don't think any of us do."

The question now becomes whether Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), the lone Republican who has shown willingness to work with Democrats on the climate bill, can provide the momentum needed to overcome the Senate's molasses-slow pace.

Even if Graham's work produces an end result that can win over liberals and centrists, the billions of dollars that the environment committee devotes to transportation is not guaranteed to survive that process.

The lone vote against the environment committee's climate bill came from Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Finance Committee -- which has asserted jurisdiction over the apportionment of valuable climate "allowances" to various sectors of the economy, including transportation.

Late Update: While the environment panel was finishing up its work on the bill, Inhofe was giving an interview to Fox News (which mistakenly labeled it the "energy committee"). Inhofe called Baucus' no vote a sign that the bill is "dead" and claimed that this summer's conservative protests at town-hall meetings were driven as much by concern over the climate bill as over the health care bill. Check out the video below: