Dem senator ‘stoked’ by carbon tax vote

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) sees a glass half-full in last week’s symbolic Senate referendum on taxing industrial carbon emissions to fight climate change.

The liberal Democrat’s pro-carbon tax amendment to a nonbinding budget plan failed with 41 votes, showing that proposals to impose a price on greenhouse gas emissions lack political traction.

But Whitehouse remains optimistic about gaining momentum for more aggressive steps to fight global warming.

“We were pretty stoked at how well it did. It was 42 counting [Democratic Senator] Frank Lautenberg, who wasn’t there,” Whitehouse told New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

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His amendment called for revenue from any carbon tax to be returned to the U.S. public through deficit reduction, reducing other tax rates and other “direct” benefits.

It was part of a symbolic fight on climate during the budget battle, going head-to-head with a GOP anti-carbon tax plan that won more support (more on that here).

Whitehouse recently launched a Capitol Hill climate task force with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and they have floated a draft plan to impose emissions fees on big polluters.

Such plans face grim political prospects. But they are part of broader efforts by liberal Democrats to enhance support for battling climate change as President Obama prepares new executive actions.