House votes to disavow carbon tax

House votes to disavow carbon tax
© Greg Nash

The House passed a nonbinding measure Thursday to denounce a carbon tax, calling it “detrimental” to the United States. 

The resolution, sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseThe case for congressional pay raises The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate MORE (R-La.), states that a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide — the most prevalent greenhouse gas that causes climate change — “would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”

It passed 229-180 with two members voting "present."

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Six Republicans voted against the resolution: Reps. Carlos CurbeloCarlos Luis CurbeloThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Ex-GOP lawmakers are face of marijuana blitz MORE (Fla.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickLawmakers push to permanently ban automatic pay raises for members of Congress Lawmakers push to permanently ban automatic pay raises for members of Congress GOP leader, Ocasio-Cortez give boost to lawmaker pay hike MORE (Pa.), Trey HollingsworthJoseph (Trey) Albert HollingsworthOcasio-Cortez, Cruz lobbying ban faces tough hurdles Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz lobbying ban faces tough hurdles 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill MORE (Ind.), Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveCongressional Women's Softball team releases roster The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Juan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base MORE (Utah), Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyPricing carbon: A solution whose time has finally come Activists push for tougher sanctions on Nicaragua's government Activists push for tougher sanctions on Nicaragua's government MORE (Fla.) and Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Ex-GOP Rep. Denham heads to lobbying firm K Street boom extends under Trump, House Dems MORE (Fla.). 

Seven Democrats broke with their caucus to vote “yes”: Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Vicente González (Texas), Conor Lamb (Pa.), Stephanie MurphyStephanie Murphy2020 Democrats mark three years since Pulse nightclub shooting 2020 Democrats mark three years since Pulse nightclub shooting Florida lawmakers propose making Pulse nightclub a national memorial MORE (Fla.), Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who is running for the Senate. 

Two lawmakers voted “present,” indicating neither support nor opposition: Reps. Ryan CostelloRyan Anthony CostellloLobbying world Overnight Energy: Park Service closing Joshua Tree after shutdown damage | Dems deliver trash from parks to White House | Dems offer bills to block offshore drilling | Oil lobby worries about Trump trade fight Ex-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax MORE (R-Pa.) and Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew Mexico bans employers from asking about applicants' criminal history New Mexico bans employers from asking about applicants' criminal history Trump antagonizes both parties on trade MORE (D-N.M.).

The risk of lawmakers passing a carbon tax is low, considering widespread GOP opposition and Republican control of both chambers of Congress and the White House. 

But Republicans nonetheless felt it was important to make a statement to denounce the possibility.

“This resolution will send a clear signal to the American people that we oppose policies that would drive up energy prices for families and for businesses,” Rep. Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantDCCC opens Texas office to protect House pickups, target vulnerable GOP seats Treasury expands penalty relief to more taxpayers Dems press Mnuchin on Trump tax returns MORE (R-Texas) said Thursday on the House floor.

“A stand-alone carbon tax, generally, would have such detrimental effects on the economy and would be an unwarranted and transparent grab for revenue,” he said.

“The adverse economic effects of such a tax would be felt throughout the economy, falling hardest on the most vulnerable, young, the poor, the elderly and those on fixed incomes.”

Scalise said a carbon tax is a real threat. His home state, Louisiana, relies heavily on offshore oil and natural gas drilling for its economy, an industry that could be hit hard by a tax on the carbon emissions that fossil fuels create.

“Believe me, there are some people in Washington that are talking about trying to bring a carbon tax. To act like, ‘Oh, there’s no talk about it at all.’ Clearly, there are people here in this chamber that want to impose a carbon tax,” he said on the floor.

“Let’s be clear about how devastating that would be to the American people,” he said, citing research from conservative groups that a carbon tax would increase the average family’s costs by $1,900 a year.

Democrats dismissed the resolution as a waste of time instead of defending carbon taxes.

Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealSchiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns Schiff blasts DOJ over memo on withholding Trump tax returns On The Money: DOJ offers legal opinion backing refusal to release Trump tax returns | Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage | Trump bashes Powell ahead of crucial Fed meeting | Design leaks for Harriet Tubman bill MORE (Mass.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, accused Republicans of squandering “the valuable time of this body arguing over a pointless resolution that will accomplish nothing for the people of America, whether it’s accepted or rejected. Nothing.”

Neal and his colleagues said the GOP should focus on other pressing issues, like access to health care and the impacts of last year’s tax overhaul. 

“Here we have a fake debate and fake legislation that’s going nowhere, instead of actual real hearings,” said Rep. John Larson John Barry LarsonUnchain seniors from chained inflation index A tax increase is simply not the answer to fund Social Security Social Security is approaching crisis territory MORE (D-Conn.).

A similar resolution denouncing a carbon tax passed the House in 2016. 

Carbon taxes are popular among Democrats and environmentalists as a way to charge companies and consumers for their impacts on the climate.

Some Republicans have endorsed the idea as well, like the conservative R Street Institute and a group of former GOP statesmen led by former Secretary of State Jim Baker. Baker’s coalition launched its advocacy last year, trying to convince Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration that a carbon tax is a good idea.

Curbelo is making waves in the carbon tax debate with his plans to formally propose a carbon tax.

Curbelo, who voted in favor of the resolution condemning the idea of a carbon tax in 2016, said he is planning to introduce his carbon tax bill next week.

The legislation would eliminate the federal gasoline tax and replace it with a $23-per-ton tax on carbon emissions on entities like power plants and oil refineries starting in 2020.

Curbelo — one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the House who represents a district heavily impacted by sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change — is looking for the levy to bring down carbon emissions and raise funding for infrastructure. 

“We do price carbon, we also repeal the gas tax, which is regressive and is unfair to low- and middle-income Americans who drive traditional vehicles, like I do,” Curbelo told reporters after the vote on the resolution.

“We also repeal the jet fuel excise tax. We have a regulatory moratorium, which will create a more positive business climate in the country. And we invest over $700 billion in American infrastructure, which is definitely going to contribute to job growth and more prosperous outcomes in the country.”

Curbelo said he wasn’t discouraged by the vote, and was encouraged by the fact that six Republicans voted against the measure, compared with none on the 2016 version. But he said he knows his bill faces an uphill battle in this Congress.

“Look, I don’t think that everyone who introduces a bill assumes that it’s going to be voted on and passed a few weeks later. But this bill will be useful in the near future,” he said. “There will be either a political alignment or some sort of crisis that requires or that facilitates the consideration of this type of concept.”

Thursday’s resolution also served as a major test for the Climate Solutions Caucus, which launched in 2016. It is a bipartisan group of 86 lawmakers, split evenly between the parties, who generally agree that they want to fight climate change, but rarely agree on policies to do so. 

Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Dems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses MORE (D-Fla.), who leads the caucus with Curbelo, told its members this week that the Scalise resolution represents an important opportunity to stand up for the climate.

“This is an important moment for the Climate Solutions Caucus to show the American people that Democrats and Republicans can stand together against anti-climate efforts,” he said in a letter to the caucus.

In the end, 34 of the climate caucus’s 43 Republican members voted for the resolution to denounce a carbon tax, and Murphy was the only Democrat in the group to vote for it.

Those lawmakers said their votes don’t change their commitment to policies to fight global warming.

“It’s a stupid resolution, either way. It said nothing,” said Rep. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordDemocrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Democrats needle GOP on standing up to Trump Amash gets standing ovation at first town hall after calling for Trump's impeachment MORE (R-S.C.).

He added that all the various problems with carbon taxes the resolution listed "apply to the present gas and diesel taxes, and aviation taxes, which we already have in place.”

Rep. Darrell IssaDarrell Edward IssaFormer chairman appears at House Oversight contempt debate Former chairman appears at House Oversight contempt debate Five times presidents sparked controversy using executive privilege MORE (R-Calif.) said he voted for the measure “because carbon tax isn’t the solution.” He listed energy efficiency programs and keeping nuclear plants open as more effective climate policies.

“That’s what the Climate Solutions Caucus is about: what should be our priority, of that which we can agree on and can execute?”

--This report was updated at 12:14 p.m.