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Backers Upbeat Despite Climate Bill's Demise


In the Senate, the week began with the promise of a vigorous debate over global warming. The sweeping bill to fight climate change closed the week with a sputter. Forty-eight senators voted to end a Republican-led filibuster, but that number fell short of the 60 votes needed. Nevertheless, today the bill's supporters claimed a victory, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: After backers of the Senate climate change bill came up 12 votes short in their efforts to save the measure from endless debate, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer put a positive spin on the morning's vote.


Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): Well, this is a landmark day. It's another milestone in the fight against global warming.

NAYLOR: But it takes some powerful rose-colored glasses and a bit of explaining to glimpse the milestone. Backers said 54 senators actually supported their bill, though some of them couldn't make it to today's vote. That number, a majority of the Senate, includes both parties' presumptive presidential nominees.

Supporters of the climate change measure had hoped they'd at least spend a few weeks airing the issue on the Senate floor and taking up amendments, but that didn't happen as the bill got caught up in the partisan squabbling that has come to characterize the Senate. Minority leader Mitch McConnell charged Democratic leaders pulled the plug on the bill to protect Democrats from having to take some tough votes.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): You've exposed your members to no bad amendments and you've been - and you're in a position to complain to the Republicans that you killed a bill that's the most important thing affecting the planet. That is obviously what's going on here.

NAYLOR: In the spotty debate that did occur on the measure, Republicans hammered relentlessly on the effects the climate change measure would have on the economy. Gasoline prices would go up, they claimed, and jobs would be lost.


Here's Texas Senator John Cornyn.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): This bill would be like a wet blanket on the economy, raising electricity prices, raising gas prices on everything from agriculture to small businesses, and it would, it's estimated, cost the average Texas household $8,000 in additional cost.

NAYLOR: The bill would have capped emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide 19 percent below current levels by 2020 and 71 percent by 2050. Under the plan, industries and utilities would be given and could buy allowances to emit carbon, which they could trade in a new carbon market. The government would use the money gained through sales of the allowances for everything from tax breaks for low-income Americans to spending on industries hurt by the emissions caps. It's a complex system. Bill co-sponsor Independent Democrat Joseph Liebermann of Connecticut took heart in that opponents railed against the bill but didn't question the need to do something.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (Independent Democrat, Connecticut): The folks who oppose this measure or oppose doing something about global warming I truly believe are on the wrong side of history. And I think to some extent they've acknowledged that themselves, because there was just about nobody in the Senate who came forward to say global warming is not real and that humans are not causing the problem.

NAYLOR: Maybe so, but as Lieberman himself said during debate yesterday, by letting this measure die the Senate is fiddling while the globe warms. It will be next year at the earliest before the Senate returns to the issue. Democrats hope there will be more of them in the next Congress to support a similar bill, and are assured they'll have the backing of the next president, whomever he is. Democrat John Kerry.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I'm encouraged. We're going to get this done. We're going to pass a bill next year. I am absolutely convinced of that, and I think this was the forerunner.

NAYLOR: But supporters of a climate change bill have a lot of work ahead. Several Democrats from energy-producing states voted against the bill today and say any measure needs to treat states equitably. Drafters of this legislation say they'll sit down with opponents next week to lay the groundwork for next year.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.