Lack of votes for Senate Democrats' energy bill may mean the end

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 23, 2010

Conceding that they can't find enough votes for the legislation, Senate Democrats on Thursday abandoned efforts to put together a comprehensive energy bill that would seek to curb greenhouse gas emissions, delivering a potentially fatal blow to a proposal the party has long touted and President Obama campaigned on.

Instead, Democrats will push for a more limited measure that would seek to increase liability costs that oil companies would pay following spills such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico. It also would create additional incentives for the development of natural gas vehicles and would provide rebates for products that reduce home energy use. Senate Democrats said they expected to find GOP support for the bill and pass it in the next two weeks.

Democrats have not ruled out pushing for a more extensive measure when Congress returns from its August recess or in the session after the November midterm elections, although it's not clear that any of the Democrats or Republicans who now oppose a more expansive measure would change their minds. Republicans have long argued that the bill, by seeking to limit emissions, would lead to higher energy costs, a view that some conservative Democrats have also taken.

The decision to abandon the proposal was another concession to the difficult political environment that party leaders face, as many rank-and-file congressional Democrats are wary of casting any votes that could be used in Republican attacks.

Democrats who advocated the broader measure didn't hide their disappointment in falling short. Carol M. Browner, the White House's climate adviser, said, "Obviously everyone is disappointed," while Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the primary sponsor of the bill, said the legislation Democrats will take up next week is "admittedly narrow."

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) blamed the GOP for blocking the measure, noting that no Senate Republicans had said they would support it. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who helped write the legislation with Kerry and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), announced in June that he would no longer back the measure, arguing that Congress should pursue a smaller, more targeted bill.

But despite weeks of meetings to reach a compromise, Democrats themselves were deeply divided. Republicans took delight in the dispute. Robert Dillon, GOP communications director for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in an e-mail: "Reid can hardly blame Republicans for opposing legislation that would raise energy prices on Americans, when his own party doesn't even support the idea."

Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

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