The GOP’s magic climate numbers

Expect to hear a lot from Republicans in the coming weeks about the numbers 17 and 64.

Seventeen is the number of Senate Democrats who voted Wednesday for at least one of four amendments to small-business legislation that would limit or totally eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

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And 64 is the total number of lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, who voted for at least one of the amendments, including three offered by Democrats to put restrictions on EPA's climate authority (more on those amendments here, here and here).

Though all four amendments failed, Republicans were quick to claim victory Thursday, noting that a majority of lawmakers rejected the Obama EPA’s climate policy agenda.

But Republicans faced setbacks of their own on Wednesday during the most important amendment vote of the day for the GOP. A proposal to completely eliminate the EPA’s climate authority — introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and offered as an amendment by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — failed in a 50-50 split vote.

In other words, Republicans were unable to convince a majority of the Senate to stand behind their much-ballyhooed plan to kill EPA climate regulations.

Though Republicans have promised to bring up the Inhofe bill again, it remains unclear if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would allow more votes on the bill. A Reid spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the issue.

And even if Republicans brought up the Inhofe bill again, it would almost certainly fail.

So the big question going forward is this: Are Republicans willing to work on a compromise proposal that would limit EPA’s climate authority without outright killing it? Based on Wednesday’s amendment votes, that appears to be the GOP’s best chance in the Senate of passing a bill.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters Thursday she expects Republicans to keep chipping away at the issue in the coming months.

“I think you will see an effort in the future. How that comes about remains to be seen,” Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in the Capitol. “I don’t know the vehicle, I don’t know the format, but we are not done with it, that is for sure.”

But top House Republicans aren't ready to talk about a compromise — at least not yet.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the author of the House version of the legislation, told The Hill on Wednesday that there are no ongoing discussions on a compromise bill that could get more support in the Senate.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the chairman emeritus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, rejected the idea that Republicans would accept a delay of EPA’s authority with the hopes of passing a more permanent bill later.

“I don’t see a lot of compromise on whether EPA should regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. I don’t think they should,” Barton said.

And Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the chairman of the panels’ Energy and Power subcommittee, said, “I would never say that we’re not willing to discuss anything. But right now we want to get past the House in the form that it’s in.”

The House is expected to vote later Thursday on Upton’s bill. It is expected to pass easily.

The other issue hanging over the debate is a potential veto from President Obama. The White House warned that it would veto the Upton bill, but the administration has yet to weigh in on proposals that would limit, rather than eliminate, EPA’s climate authority.

Even if Republicans were able to rally 64 lawmakers around a proposal to rein in the EPA in the Senate, they need 67 votes to overcome a veto.

Meanwhile, opponents of EPA climate rules are looking to spending bills to reel in the agency.