House votes to condemn carbon tax

House votes to condemn carbon tax
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The House voted Friday to condemn a potential carbon tax, closing the door on a climate change policy popular in some conservative circles.

Lawmakers passed, by a 237-163 vote, a GOP-backed resolution listing pitfalls from a tax on carbon dioxide emissions and concluding that such a policy “would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”

Six Democrats voted with the GOP for the resolution. No Republicans dissented.

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The non-binding resolution is first and foremost a defensive measure, to get lawmakers on the record against a carbon tax, in case it’s part of a future proposal, perhaps part of a comprehensive tax reform package or in return for repealing certain regulations.

President Obama has not proposed a carbon tax, and while many Democrats support the idea, it has not taken hold as a serious legislative proposal in years.

Nonetheless, Republicans spoke as if they were opposing a specific policy that has a significant chance of passage.

“With a carbon tax, there would be a tax hike on production, distribution and use of not only oil, but also natural gas and any other form of energy that emits carbon,” Rep. Diane BlackDiane BlackHouse to take up spending bills, then budget Jockeying begins in race for House Budget gavel Overnight Finance: Trump signs Russia sanctions bill, rips Congress | Trump plan would cut legal immigration | Senate confirms labor board pick | House Budget chair running for governor | Regulator takes step to change 'Volcker Rule' MORE (R-Tenn.) said on the House floor.

“Such a tax would have many serious impacts on our economy, by making day-to-day life more expensive for families throughout this country.”

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who sponsored the resolution, accused Obama of trying to push carbon taxes through his executive actions after his cap-and-trade bill failed to pass Congress.

“Even with that defeat, President Obama still tries to come back with a carbon tax, through other means, whether it’s regulations or whether it’s superimposed carbon taxes through the [Environmental Protection Agency] and some of the other things they’re doing,” he said.

Scalise objected to the scientific consensus that the climate is changing due mainly to human activity through greenhouse gas emissions and accused carbon tax proponents of trying to control weather.

“They talk about somehow being able to create policy that would stop hurricanes and change the sea level rising, for goodness sake. As if some policy’s going to do that,” he said. “And by the way, the result of their policies will increase carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Democrats said Republicans are burying their heads in the sand about climate change.

“If we would have had our committee take these issues seriously, maybe have a week of hearings, we would have been able to demonstrate to the gentleman, with an impartial panel of independent experts, all across the political spectrum — conservative, liberal, Republican and Democrat — who would conclude that a carbon tax, revenue-neutral, is actually the key to the innovative future they want,” said Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerDems push for tough GMO labeling rule 5 things members of Congress are doing over August recess Lawmakers target horse meat trade MORE (D-Ore.).

Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said considering the resolution is a waste of valuable legislative time.

He listed various more pressing matters, like fighting the Zika virus, raising the minimum wage or helping Flint, Mich., recover from its drinking water crisis.

“Instead, today we are voting on two sense-of-Congress resolutions,” he said. “Doing so provides further evidence that the Republicans are not acting on those real problems mentioned earlier, but are in denial on another real issue that needs action: climate change.”

The carbon tax is popular among Democrats and environmentalists, as well as some conservatives who prioritize fighting climate change.

A group of think tank leaders from the Niskanen Center, R Street Institute and elsewhere, along with some scholars from the American Enterprise Institute, wrote to Congress opposing the resolution this week.

“We are concerned that this resolution offers a limited perspective on carbon taxes and is blind to the potential benefits of market-based climate policy,” they wrote.

“Legislation that incorporates a carbon tax could include regulatory and tax reforms to make the United States economy more competitive, innovative, and robust, benefiting both present and future generations.”

Some major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell and BP, also support various kinds of carbon taxes.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP debates tax cuts vs. tax reform Five tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare Lacking White House plan, Senate focuses on infrastructure MORE (R-Mo.) has sponsored a similar carbon tax resolution in the Senate, but it has not gotten a vote.

The House also voted 253-144 to condemn Obama’s proposal from earlier this year to impose a $10.25 tax on each barrel of oil, an idea that never got much support in Congress. 

That non-binding resolution was sponsored by Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles BoustanyControversial House Republican gains national attention after filming Auschwitz video Democrats, Republicans must work together to advance health care Lobbying World MORE (R-La.).

- Updated at 1:22 p.m.