Senate panel brings climate debate into budget talks

The climate change debate found a new arena on Tuesday: The Senate Budget Committee.

The hearing coincides with a new report from the White House which concludes that delaying action on climate change could cost the U.S. about $150 billion per year.

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"These costs are too important to ignore, and it’s time for the Budget Committee to begin to assess the damage climate change will have on our budget and economy," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the committee, said on Tuesday.

Murray said that the added costs of climate change are not "adequately" included in long-term budget plans.

Director of natural resources and environment for the Government Accountability Office, Alfredo Gomez, told senators that over 555,000 facilities and other assets totaling roughly $850 billion for the Defense Department are at risk to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.

Gomez added that the federal government should include climate-related costs for future losses in current budgets rather than wait for an event to occur.

The shift to bring federal budget projects into the climate change fight signals an attempt to flip the script by the White House and Senate Democrats on the GOP's criticisms of the president's climate agenda.

Republicans on the committee argued that Democrats should consider the immediate costs of action on the economy and federal budget.

Still, talk turned to the science behind climate change among lawmakers, which is a major sticking point for policy discussions on the topic.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) poked fun at Democrats who say increasing carbon dioxide levels correlate to a increase in global temperature.

"I am no denier," Johnson said. "I fully acknowledge we have had climate change over geologic time."

He added that over 2,000 years ago Wisconsin was under an ice sheet, noting that the climate naturally changes but that it poses no serious risk.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) offered to educate Johnson, and sent a chart over to his side of the committee room that indicated "climate changes are triggered by an extraordinary increase in carbon dioxide."

"Someone has to lead," King said. "We are the wealthiest country in the world so we are in the best position to lead, but we can't be stupid about it."