In House climate vote, hints of problems in Senate

Backers of climate change legislation celebrated a historic victory in the House, but the breakout of the vote may reinforce the notion that the Senate will pose a bigger hurdle for the landmark bill.

Republican lobbyist and pollster Michael McKenna noted in a memo to his clients that House Democrats from several critical states voted against the measure, which he suggests puts pressure on Democratic senators from those states to do the same.

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In all, 44 House Democrats resisted the entreaties from their leadership and voted no on the climate bill, which would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent over the next four decades. The legislation squeaked by 219-212 anyway. But with Senate Republicans pledging to filibuster, Democratic unity in the Senate is even more critical for climate backers, although some Republicans are likely to cross party lines to support a bill.

The Democratic delegations from West Virginia, Louisiana, South Dakota and North Dakota voted against the climate bill. (Only West Virginia has sent more than one Democrat to the House. Each of the Dakotas only has a one representative.) House Democrats from six other states – Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, and North Carolina – also voted against the measure, although others in the delegation supported the climate bill.

According to McKenna, the House vote indicates that “the Senate’s climb has gotten steeper rather than gentler since last year.”

Many of the states listed by in the memo were already known problem areas for climate bill supporters.

In June 2008, backers of a climate change bill came 12 votes short of invoking cloture and ending a Republican filibuster to the bill. Four Democrats voted against cloture: Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Ten Democrats later wrote Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saying they had concerns with the bill even though they supported stopping debate on the bill, including Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

Those Democrats also included Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia. McKenna doesn’t mention this in his memo, but one of the important yea vote in the House came from Rick Boucher, whose support helped ease the concern of some coal-state Democrats. One lobbyist said Boucher has been encouraging fellow Virginia Democrats Webb and Mark Warner to support the climate bill. And Republican Sen. John Warner, now retired, was an original author of the climate bill.

The bill also picked up the support of key members from industrial states, namely Rep. John Dingell of Michigan.

Still, McKenna notes that regional differences that complicated talks in the House will likely come up again in the Senate.

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“Representatives from the Northeast and Pacific provided 110 of 219 yea votes for the legislation. Those states have 28 senators. The remainder of the nation voted against the legislation, 109-181. These states have 72 senators. While there are multiple complicating factors, the regional nature of the vote may be and may remain important.”

The authors of the House bill sought to reassure senators from coal and industrial states by directing billions of dollars to research ways to reduce the carbon footprint of coal-plants and to protect energy intensive industries from large increases in their energy bills.

Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation, strong backers of the bill, acknowledged the Senate poses difficulties to the bill, but said he was encouraged by the fact that 8 Republicans crossed over in the House.

In the Senate, he said other Republicans would as well.

Republican Sens. Mel Martinez of Florida and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine voted for cloture. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was an original author of a similar climate bill although he was absent during the vote in June.

Climate bill backers are also targeting Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee in hopes of winning their support.

“All the ingredients called for in the recipe for passing a bill in the Senate are assembled, and I think we have the iron chefs who can put it all together,” Symons said.

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