Climate Bill Passes Senate Committee Without Republicans Or Baucus

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee managed to clear their latest cap and trade proposal, which seeks a 20% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. But it did it so without any Republicans or Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) on board. Of course, Republicans and Democrats not agreeing isn't exactly shocking. But what I do find notable is the Republicans' rationale for not voting: economics.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Republican members of the committee boycotted the vote to protest a lack of a complete analysis of its potential economic impact. Republicans have called the Senate climate measure and a similar measure passed by the House of Representatives a "tax" that the country can ill-afford at a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty.

That's true: the measure essentially amounts to a tax. It will cost businesses that need to reduce emissions. While that may be desirable from a long-term environmental standpoint, from a short-term economic standpoint, it's extremely dangerous. Raising taxes when an economy is struggling to recover from the worst recession in memory is arguably the worst thing the government can do.

Meanwhile, Senator Baucus was concerned not so much with economics or broader business but with what the bill's passage would mean for Democrats from regions with coal- and manufacturing-dependent economies. With a mid-term elections next fall, Republicans from those districts would criticize their Democratic opponents who voted to make things more difficult for local businesses when unemployment was near 10%.

At this point, it looks like getting a climate change bill to the President's desk will be even more challenging than health care reform. That might be hard to imagine, but Blue Dogs will likely be even more concerned about a proposal that serves as a tax on businesses during a time of economic hardship than a health care bill which would increase the deficit and taxes in the long-term.

Given all of that, I'd be pretty surprised if an aggressive climate bill passed in 2010. Baucus and the Blue Dogs might support such a bill eventually -- once the economy is back to full strength. But to pass a bill in the near-term, it would likely have to be far weaker, as too many Democrats agree with Republicans that putting additional strain on businesses right now just doesn't make sense.