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As Inhofe’s Climate Bill Boycott Continues, Kerry, Graham and Lieberman Try An End-Around

James Inhofe (R-OK) appeared briefly today at a climate bill markup in the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, simply to drop off a letter with a series of Republican demands on how to move forward on the bill. The letter basically asks the EPA for a “full assessment” of the Senate bill, including modeling that they are probably not even equipped to do. It’s just a stall tactic, and Democrats treated it as such.

Committee Democrats seemed more bemused by the Oklahoma conservative’s brief appearance.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Boxer told Inhofe.

As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse put it, “The party of ‘no’ has now devolved to the party of ‘no show.'”

Seeking to jump-start the process, John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman met with reporters today to announce that they would create a “dual track” for the climate bill, to be completed after Sen. Boxer finishes her bill in the EPW Committee. There are SIX committees with jurisdiction over this bill (EPW, Foreign Relations, Finance, Agriculture, Commerce and Natural Resources), and so the protocols can get sticky. But Kerry wants to work with the White House, along with Sen. Boxer and the leadership, to fast-track a bill that tracks with the deal Kerry and Graham announced in the New York Times a few weeks ago and can get 60 votes.

According to Graham, the bill would try to solve the problem of carbon pollution (which he described as real) in a way that makes business sense; and the problem of energy independence, which Graham would attack with a host of GOP-friendly measures like offshore drilling, nuclear power and clean coal technology. “The green economy is coming, and we can either follow or lead… once you price carbon, the green economy will flourish,” said Graham. There’s a mixed blessing here: Graham did characterize the planet as “in peril,” but offered solutions like drilling and clean coal that would only further imperil it.

All three Senators responded favorably to the Chamber of Commerce seeking a deal on climate and energy, pointedly saying that the question is “not whether to do something, but how.” Sen. Kerry described himself as “pleased” with the willingness of the Chamber of Commerce to take to the bargaining table. “We welcome it,” he said. Sen. Boxer also praised the Chamber’s letter as a “game changer,” and a far cry from a couple weeks ago, when they sued the Yes Men for their spoof pretending that the Chamber supported climate legislation. The letter can be found here, and you can see that the news in it is not all good for climate bill supporters:

The Chamber will continue to oppose bad policies that resemble the failed climate proposals of the past, such as bills that jeopardize American jobs, create trade inequalities, leave open the Clean Air Act, open the door to CO2-based mass tort litigation, and further hamper the permitting process for clean energy.

Lieberman’s presence should not surprise, as the Kerry-Graham process seeks bipartisan cooperation and would achieve lots of Republican goals on energy. The process should not be seen as a rebuke to Sen. Boxer’s committee, Kerry said. “(The bill) will be determined by Harry Reid,” he maintained. “We are respecting the EPW process. After they report out a bill, we’ll be able to shape it with the Majority Leader.” Kerry claimed that he has full support from Boxer.

Graham seemed to be motivated by the fact that the EPA has been empowered to address carbon pollution in the absence of Congressional action. “If we don’t act, the EPA will… doing nothing has a consequence,” he said. He suggested that the source of voter anger with Congress is a sense that they are stalling on a variety of issues. “If you can’t solve hard problems, what are you doing here?”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the Congress to pass climate legislation in an address to Congress yesterday, drawing a mixed reaction.

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David Dayen

David Dayen