Graham: Healthcare fight makes passing energy and climate bill tougher

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday that Republican anger over healthcare legislation makes it tougher to pass the energy and climate-change bill that he is working with Democrats to craft.

"I want to work with this administration, but this healthcare proposal has made it very hard for Republicans to sit down at the table with these guys, because of the way they have run over us. But at the end of the day we have more problems than just healthcare," Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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"I want to help solve hard problems, but this healthcare bill has made a hard problem worse," he added.

Graham has split with the bulk of his caucus to work with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and White House officials on a compromise global warming and energy bill that can reach 60 Senate votes.

Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are planning legislation that would blend mandatory nationwide greenhouse gas emissions reductions with wider U.S. oil-and-gas drilling and expanded federal financing to build new nuclear power plants, among other measures.

President Barack Obama on Friday helped broker a limited international climate-change agreement at United Nations talks in Copenhagen. Supporters of slow-moving climate legislation in the U.S. hope that pledges by nations including China and India to slow their emissions of heat-trapping gases will help propel the bill in the Senate.

Graham said his priority in working on the bill is to reduce U.S. reliance on oil imports. "When [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez got a standing ovation in Copenhagen it made me sick to my stomach, but the only way he is relevant is because of the oil revenues," he said. Venezuela is a major oil producer.

On the same program, White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod defended the nonbinding agreement Obama reached after a frenzied day of ad-hoc meetings with world leaders at the summit.

“Let’s understand that when the president arrived the talks were collapsing and there was a very real prospect of no progress out of Copenhagen,” he said.

The agreement included compromise language that allows for outside analysis of nations’ implementation of their pledged emissions reductions.

How to address “transparency” was a major sticking point at the fractious two-week Copenhagen talks because China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, resisted calls for external verification of its actions.

Graham called the accord limited progress. “I think in many ways it is going to be seen as ineffective, but it is some transparency that we don’t have today,” he said.

Under the overall accord, countries will commit to implementing their national emissions-cutting plans. It sets a global goal of keeping temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius, the level that many scientists say is needed to prevent catastrophic and irreversible climatic changes.

Obama acknowledged Friday the accord would not bring about the needed reductions, but called it a major breakthrough that paves the way for further action.

But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday criticized the outcome in Copenhagen. “I think that the fact it has no binding provisions to it whatsoever is a rhetorical attempt to cover up what was obviously a serious failure,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

McCain in years past has called for limits on U.S. greenhouse gases and sponsored an early version of “cap-and-trade” plans with Lieberman. But he has been sharply critical of current Democratic climate proposals.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to bring a climate and energy package to the floor in the spring. The House approved a sweeping bill in late June.

Kerry and others say China’s pledge to slow its emissions and endorse the Copenhagen accord should help ease concerns that U.S. legislation would hand a competitive advantage to manufacturers overseas.

Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sunday said he was hopeful that Democrats would be able to pass a bill in 2010. “We're going to move forward on it. I hope we can get it done this coming year,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” He called climate and energy legislation a way to provide U.S. jobs in green-energy industries.