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Obama Praises Climate Bill's Progress but Takes Aim at Tariffs
Many Republican leaders also have tried to undercut Democratic lawmakers' support for the measure by comparing it to the "Btu tax" of 1993, a bill that would have taxed energy sources based on their heat value measured in British thermal units. The bill never became law, but many Democratic House members who supported lost their seats in 1994 after opponents used the Btu tax as a political weapon against them. It continues to haunt many lawmakers on tax issues.
Obama said the Republican comparison "tells me those guys are 16 years behind the times" and that "they are fighting not even the last war; they're fighting three wars ago." He said that "for all the fear mongering . . . there's a recognition that the status quo is unsustainable."
On Friday, however, House leaders won over only eight Republicans; 44 Democrats voted against the bill, which passed 219 to 212.
"I think those 44 Democrats are sensitive to the immediate political climate of uncertainty around this issue," Obama said. "They've got to run every two years, and I completely understand that."
Climate-change legislation could face a stiffer challenge in the Senate, where without Republican support it would take the votes of all 58 Democrats and two independents to bring a bill to a vote. Early Saturday morning, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said on Twitter that "I hope we can fix cap and trade so it doesn't unfairly punish businesses and families in coal dependent states like Missouri." She said responses on cap and trade were the "definition of the word polarized."
The Senate's Democratic leaders already have a full plate with financial and health-care reform and the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Obama said the timing of a climate bill in the Senate is up to Democratic leaders, adding that health care might come first. But he urged the Senate to "seize the day, seize the opportunity."
The president faces time pressure from European allies, who want the United States to approve limits on greenhouse gas emissions before a December climate summit in Copenhagen. Obama acknowledged that "the final legislation that emerges is probably not going to satisfy the Europeans or Greenpeace." But he said he recently told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that "we don't want to make the best the enemy of the good."
In the House, the White House left a wide berth for Waxman, Markey and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to make deals with lawmakers. Asked whether he had a bottom line as legislation moved forward, Obama listed his priorities as: "meaningful targets so that by 2020, by 2050 we're actually seeing reductions in carbon emissions"; a "strong push" for energy efficiency that he believes could reduce energy use by 30 percent "without changing our quality of life"; a bill that is "deficit neutral"; a component promoting renewable energy; and assurances that consumers will be "protected from huge spikes in electricity prices."
"I've got some broad criteria the House bill meets," he said. "There are going to be provisions in the House bill and in the Senate bill that I question as to their effectiveness. I'm not going to have a line-item veto, so I'm going to look at the final product and if it meets those broad criteria . . . it's a bill I'm going to embrace."