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 ScalisePelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid House GOP whip team seeks to get Republicans behind Senate coronavirus bill 14 things to know today about coronavirus 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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Seven Democrats broke with their caucus to vote “yes”: Reps. Sanford Bishop (Ga.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Vicente González (Texas), Conor Lamb (Pa.), Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyPelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid Sunday shows preview: State governors and top medical officials prepare for next week of COVID-19 response Members of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive 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 CostellloBottom line Former GOP Rep. Costello launches lobbying shop Head of Pennsylvania GOP resigns over alleged explicit texts MORE (R-Pa.) and Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamStates urge citizens to stay at home, businesses to suspend in-person operations Governors plead with Trump for more coronavirus supplies, testing Five Latinas who could be Biden's running mate 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 MarchantTexas kicks off critical battle for House control Gun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 Gaetz filing ethics complaint against Pelosi for 'destroying' Trump speech 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 NealJudge puts new hold on Democrats' lawsuit seeking Trump tax returns MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment Senators offer bill to extend tax filing deadline 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 LarsonDemocrats call for stimulus to boost Social Security benefits by 0 a month New Social Security rule limits access to non-English speakers Retirees should say 'no thanks' to Romney's Social Security plan 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 DeutchOcasio-Cortez knocks Pence: 'Utterly irresponsible to put him in charge of US coronavirus response' Father of Parkland shooting victim calls on Congress to take action Florida 'red flag' law has removed hundreds of guns: report 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 SanfordTrump becomes presumptive GOP nominee after sweeping primaries Boston Globe endorses Trump's GOP challenger Bill Weld Trump challenger Bill Weld rules out 2020 independent bid 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 IssaFive Latinas who could be Biden's running mate The Hill's Campaign Report: Campaigns confront reality of coronavirus Issa advances in bid to fill Hunter's vacant House seat 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.