Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday voted to send the climate and energy bill from Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) out of committee without amending it—thus overriding the Republican boycott of the markup.
According to committee rules, two members of the minority need to be present in order to begin marking up the bill. So the Democrats took advantage of a rule that allows them to simply report a bill out of committee with a simple majority vote, bypassing the markup altogether. It passed by 11 to 1. "It's unfortunate we had to go the route we did, but the Senate can't be paralyzed," said Boxer after the vote. "We did what we had to do."
The only Democrat to vote against advancing the unamended bill was Max Baucus (D-Mont.). He outlined two specific areas that he had wanted to change—lowering the 2020 emissions reduction target to 17 percent, with the ability to raise it back to 20 percent if other nations follow suit, and adjustments to the agricultural provisions. But Baucus affirmed that he will work with others in the Senate to "get climate change legislation that can get 60 votes."
Of course, the Republican leadership on the panel is calling foul on Democrats' decision to skip the markup. "I am deeply disappointed by Chairman Boxer’s decision to violate the rules and longstanding precedent of the committee," said ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in a statement.
So what happens next? The Kerry-Boxer bill will be handed over to Reid's office, where he will eventually combine it with the energy measure that the Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed in June, as well as anticipated measures from the Finance, Commerce, and Agriculture committees. But the best hope for building momentum for a bill is probably the parallel effort by Sens. Kerry, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to craft consensus legislation among senators outside the committees. Those proposals will also be turned over to Reid.
Still, the path forward from here is unclear. In his remarks on Wednesday, Kerry only noted that there will be movement before the Copenhagen climate talks. "When and how we introduce this legislation will be determined by Harry Reid," said Kerry. Reid, however, has so far declined to offer a timetable.