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Amidst Budget Impasse, GOP Tries and Fails to Gut Clean Air Act

4:05 PM EDT on April 7, 2011

With budget talks reaching a critical pass to avert a government shutdown, House Republicans have been busy passing an ideological wishlist, including an attempt to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from "raising taxes." H.R. 910, which they are calling the “Energy Tax Prevention Act” would undermine the EPA’s ability to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from industrial and manufacturing plants and gut the Clean Air Act.

Democrats offered a few amendments to the bill which made for some good political theater, including a gem from Representative Earl Blumenauer. Stating that “I, too, am opposed to any attempts by the EPA to impose taxes,” Blumenauer offered an amendment that struck the provisions of the bill and replaced them with a measure to "help us find out whether Republicans are truly concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency imposing an energy tax on America." The amendment text continued: "During its 40 year history, the Clean Air Act has prevented millions of hospital visits, asthma attacks and cases of lung cancer while strengthening our economy. A record like that deserves support, not partisan attacks.”

Blumenauer’s amendment didn't get far but environmental and public health groups can rest easy, for now. The bill, and a few others attempting to curb the EPA's regulatory powers, didn't make it through the Senate. President Obama had also stated that he would veto any bills that did not reflect "scientific consensus on global warming."

Meanwhile, budget talks have continued behind closed doors. Billions for transit, rail, and green transportation are still at stake in the negotiations.President Obama met with House and Senate leaders late last night and earlier today in another attempt to reach an agreement on how to avoid a government shutdown. House Republicans have drafted yet another Continuing Resolution to keep the government running – this time for just one week – that would cut a further $12 billion from the budget but would fully fund the military through October 1. (The GOP is calling it the “troop-funding” bill.)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already rejected the CR, saying the Republicans are not “solving problems, they’re stalling. They’re procrastinating. That’s not just bad policy, it’s fantasy.”

House Speaker John Boehner says he is serious about a solution, but as the chief negotiator for the Republicans, he has his hands full managing the expectations of the GOP's Tea Party contingent. Boehner has tried to temper internal party conflicts with meetings to “educate” freshmen on the political and financial risks of a government shutdown. It has widely been reported that he believes Democrats would score the political victory if a FY2011 Budget is not passed by tomorrow. Boehner has been taking time this week to meet with the “cut it or shut it” crowd within his party’s ranks to push for some compromise – and it could work. “It’s helped a lot of freshmen see the bigger picture,” said Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama. “You could see a lot of freshmen evolving and growing and maturing as legislators.”

But it still might not be enough. Congressional rules make it particularly difficult to push through the necessary legislation within the next two days, at which point a shutdown would go into effect. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy has said compromise would not be necessary to pass the newest CR, if he can get his entire party’s support. Without it, members of our armed forces could see their paychecks withheld, the IRS would stop processing paper tax returns, hundreds of thousands of federal employees would be furloughed, and all small business loans would be placed on hold.

President Obama is calling Speaker Boehner and Senator Reid back to the White House at 7 p.m. today. Stay tuned.

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