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 ScaliseFive takeaways from Fauci's testimony Trump is wrong on census memo — but has a point Trump hits 'Stone Cold' Democrats over push to undo travel ban 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 Memo: GOP cringes at new Trump race controversy Trump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Republicans can't exploit the left's climate extremism without a better idea MORE (Fla.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. Fitzpatrick2020 Global Tiger Day comes with good news, but Congress still has work to do How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 Overnight Energy: House passes major conservation bill, sending to Trump | EPA finalizes rule to speed up review of industry permits MORE (Pa.), Trey HollingsworthJoseph (Trey) Albert HollingsworthThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Nano Vision CEO Steve Papermaster says we may need a new TSA-like institution for dealing with future pandemics; Fauci says Trump didn't seek a slowdown on testing The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Hurd says China engaged in global disinformation campaign; US unemployment highest since Great Depression The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Chef José Andrés says most political leaders today are not acting with urgency; Dems crafting 'Rooseveltian' relief package MORE (Ind.), Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveFormer NFL player Burgess Owens wins Utah GOP primary The Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights The biggest political upsets of the decade MORE (Utah), Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Gohmert tests positive; safety fears escalate on Capitol Hill Pelosi to require masks on House floor Rooney becomes first House Republican to use proxy voting system MORE (Fla.) and Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenTechNet hires Hispanic communications director Bottom line Women are refusing to take the backseat in politics, especially Latinas 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 MurphyLawmakers weigh in on role of private equity firms in economic recovery The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Coronavirus relief negotiations underway with lawmakers back in Washington The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided GOP to unveil COVID-19 bill 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 CostellloTrump struggles to stay on script, frustrating GOP again Bottom line Former GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop MORE (R-Pa.) and Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamBiden: I'll have a running mate picked next week The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Angie Craig says we need an equitable distribution plan for an eventual vaccine that reaches all communities; Moderna vaccine enters phase 3 trial in US today New Mexico governor says her state is 'at the mercy of what's going on around the country' 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 MarchantHouse Ethics panel recommends ,000 fine for Rep. Schweikert's campaign finance violations Candace Valenzuela wins Texas runoff to replace retiring Rep. Marchant Ethics Committee reviewing Rep. Sanford Bishop's campaign spending 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 NealTreasury to conduct policy review of tax-exempt status for universities after Trump tweets Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility Coronavirus recession hits Social Security, Medicare, highway funding 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 LarsonHouse Dems introduce bill to require masks on planes and in airports House seeks ways to honor John Lewis Bipartisan bill introduced to require TSA to take temperature checks 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 DeutchHouse votes to sanction Schweikert over ethics violations House Ethics panel recommends ,000 fine for Rep. Schweikert's campaign finance violations Florida county official apologizes for social media post invoking Hitler  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 SanfordMark SanfordCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama The Memo: Can the Never Trumpers succeed? 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 IssaDemocrats go big on diversity with new House recruits GOP sues California over Newsom's vote-by-mail order Conservative group files challenge to California vote-by-mail order 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.