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 Scalise20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform GOP to launch discharge petition on anti-BDS measure This week: Democrats revive net neutrality fight 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 CurbeloOvernight Energy: Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members| Green groups want freeze on Keystone construction| Bernhardt sworn in as Secretary of Interior Overnight Energy: Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members | Greens want freeze on Keystone construction | Bernhardt sworn in as Interior chief Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members MORE (Fla.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race Cybersecurity Advisory Committee will strengthen national security through a stronger public-private partnership Congress is ready to tackle climate change MORE (Pa.), Trey HollingsworthJoseph (Trey) Albert HollingsworthThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump rallies for second term on 'promises kept' Overnight Defense: House votes to condemn transgender military ban | 5 Republicans vote against ban | Senate bill would block Turkey getting F-35s over Russia deal The 5 Republicans who voted to condemn Trump's transgender military ban MORE (Ind.), Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Juan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (Utah), Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyOvernight Energy: Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members| Green groups want freeze on Keystone construction| Bernhardt sworn in as Secretary of Interior Overnight Energy: Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members | Greens want freeze on Keystone construction | Bernhardt sworn in as Interior chief Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members MORE (Fla.) and Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenK Street boom extends under Trump, House Dems Bottom Line The women in white and the trails they blaze 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 MurphyLeft-center divide forces Dems to scrap budget vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure 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 CostellloOvernight 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 Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch MORE (R-Pa.) and Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamNew governors chart ambitious paths in first 100 days Leader of militia group allegedly talked of assassination training for Obama, Clinton FBI arrests leader of militia seen detaining migrants on gun charge 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 NealCongress can retire the retirement crisis Democratic Party chief: Trump is 'compromised' Overnight Health Care: Dem chairs to meet with progressives on drug pricing | Oregon judge says he will block Trump abortion rule | Trump vows to 'smash the grip' of drug addiction | US measles cases hit post-2000 record 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 LarsonDemocratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Democratic senators unveil 'Medicare X' bill to expand coverage Stop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave 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 DeutchOvernight Energy: Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members| Green groups want freeze on Keystone construction| Bernhardt sworn in as Secretary of Interior Overnight Energy: Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members | Greens want freeze on Keystone construction | Bernhardt sworn in as Interior chief Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members 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 SanfordTrump keeps tight grip on GOP Endorsing Trump isn’t the easiest decision for some Republicans Mark Sanford warns US could see ‘Hitler-like character’ in the future 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 IssaGOP plots comeback in Orange County The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles 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.