WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Friday blocked a vote on legislation that would cut greenhouse gas emissions across the U.S. economy, but its supporters said they'd keep working to get a stronger version ready for the next president.
The focus on climate now turns to the presidential election. Supporters said they were confident that the next president — Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama — would push to get mandatory emissions controls in place.
Obama and McCain say global warming is an urgent problem, and both support some form of plan to cut U.S. emissions and set up a market to trade pollution permits. The two senators said Friday that they would have voted with the bill's supporters if they'd been at the Capitol.
McCain said the bill needed to be debated and improved. The most important change, he said in a statement, would be to include provisions that would benefit nuclear power. McCain said global warming was the most important environmental challenge and promised he would "not give up until we finally succeed in enacting ... legislation to address this urgent problem."
Obama said the bill needed to be strengthened from a 66 percent reduction in emissions by 2050 to an 80 percent cut since that's what scientists warn is needed. He also called for more help for middle-class Americans and more resources for regions that "will bear the brunt of this critical transition to a clean energy economy."
Obama and McCain were among 54 senators who favored moving ahead, but 60 votes were needed. Six of the 54 weren't present to vote. The tally: 48 in favor, 36 opposed.
"We have kept this alive for this presidential race," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Boxer and other backers hoped they'd be able to work out some disagreements and move the bill closer to completion this year, even if they couldn't get it passed. President Bush opposes mandatory controls and has said he'd veto the measure.
Boxer said she'd start discussions next week with senators who wanted action to reduce greenhouse gases but had other ideas about how to do it.
"That was the process we had hoped to follow on the floor, you know, sitting down with members, working out their amendments," she said.
The bill would set limits on the pollution contributing to global warming and create a market for mandatory pollution permits that would reward companies that pollute less. Proceeds from the permits would go to rebates to help consumers, transitional help for companies that are dependent on fossil fuels, support for cleaner technologies and help for communities that must adapt to problems created by warming.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky opposed the bill and voted Monday not to let debate on it begin. He was in a minority of 14, however. Most senators said they relished the chance to start talking about global warming on the Senate floor.
During the debate, some Republican senators shared Bush's views that regulating greenhouse gases amounted to a huge tax and would lead to higher gas prices. They cited a study forecasting that the bill would raise gas prices 53 cents per gallon by 2030, or about 2 cents per year.
Boxer argued that the bill would move America away from dependence on foreign oil and would cut the cost of driving by lowering the demand for gasoline and encouraging the development of cleaner technologies.
The next president will have to deal immediately with final negotiations on a new climate treaty.
"If the administration is there saying we've got to get this done and moving to help with the negotiations and putting the agencies at the disposal of the legislators, boy, you can move through this and get it done," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
ON THE WEB
U.S. government scientists' summary of global warming, "Understanding and Responding to Climate Change,"