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 ScaliseTrump leaves GOP in turmoil with shutdown looming Overnight Defense: Senate bucks Trump with Yemen war vote, resolution calling crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi killing | House briefing on Saudi Arabia fails to move needle | Inhofe casts doubt on Space Force House lawmakers delay decision on Saudi Arabia pending investigation 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 — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? GOP lawmakers call for autopsy on 'historic losses' Bipartisan group of lawmakers propose landmark carbon tax MORE (Fla.), Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickMeet the lawmakers putting politics aside to save our climate Educated voters breaking hard against GOP Bipartisan group of lawmakers propose landmark carbon tax MORE (Pa.), Trey HollingsworthJoseph (Trey) Albert HollingsworthElection Countdown: Trump jumps into Ohio special election fight | What to watch in Tennessee primaries | Koch network freezes out Republicans who crossed them | Dead heat in Texas, Nevada Senate races | How celebs are getting into the midterms Democratic Indiana congressional candidate won't support Pelosi Overnight Energy: Proposed rule would roll back endangered species protections | House passes Interior, EPA spending | House votes to disavow carbon tax MORE (Ind.), Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveVoters on both sides chose people who pledged to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Juan Williams: Nowhere to go for black Republicans WHIP LIST: Pelosi seeks path to 218 MORE (Utah), Francis RooneyLaurence (Francis) Francis RooneyMeet the lawmakers putting politics aside to save our climate Bipartisan group of lawmakers propose landmark carbon tax Overnight Defense: Trump says he may cancel G-20 meeting with Putin | Three service members killed in Afghanistan | Active-shooter drill sparks panic at Walter Reed MORE (Fla.) and Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenGOP lawmaker tells party to stop focusing on 'white, male conservative' voters ‘Wake up, dudes’ — gender gap confounds GOP women Florida New Members 2019 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 MurphyProblem Solvers Dems urge Pelosi to publicly back three rules changes Problem Solvers Dems: We 'cannot support' Pelosi for Speaker 'at this time' 14 House Dems vow to withhold Speaker votes over rule reforms 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 Costelllo‘Wake up, dudes’ — gender gap confounds GOP women GOP lawmakers say party isn't trying to learn from midterm losses Pennsylvania New Members 2019 MORE (R-Pa.) and Michelle Lujan GrishamMichelle Lynn Lujan GrishamEight newly elected Dem governors miss meeting with Trump Washington governor plans major climate initiatives New governors plan aggressive climate steps 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 MarchantPuerto Ricans may have elected Rick Scott and other midterm surprises Rise of big cities push Texas to swing-state territory — maybe by 2020 Midterm results shake up national map 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 NealTerm limit fight highlights growing pains for Pelosi’s majority The Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda Pelosi sees fierce resistance from White House if Dems seek Trump’s tax returns 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 LarsonTime is money: Let’s open Social Security field offices, not close them Left wants a vote on single-payer bill in new Congress Seniors are big winners in House elections 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 Dems talking more about impeaching Trump Google chief defends company during Capitol Hill grilling Politifact names conspiracies about Parkland students as 2018's 'lie of the year' 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 SanfordPelosi sees fierce resistance from White House if Dems seek Trump’s tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Bush memorial service in Houston | House passes two-week spending measure | Markets drop after Chinese executive's arrest Incoming Dem lawmaker mocks Trump for referring to himself as 'President T' 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 IssaGeorge H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors Ryan casts doubt on 'bizarre' California election results Democratic gains erasing House GOP in California 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.