The lack of Republican support for the landmark bill has some champions of centrist policymaking questioning whether it’s possible to pass major bipartisan climate legislation. Other centrists argue Republicans are only protesting the process used to advance the “Inflation Reduction Act,” which includes $369 billion in climate and energy spending. But advocates of bipartisanship all hope Republicans will remain open to future climate bills.
“This problem is so serious — climate change — that if you’re at a point where you can’t get 60 votes, then you have to think what’s the right thing to do,” said former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who is now the national co-chair of the bipartisan policy advocacy group No Labels. “I think the right thing to do is to try to get enough votes in one party, under the rules of the Senate, to get something done.”
Centrists like Lieberman can only speculate as to why moderate Republicans didn’t support the bill, which is projected to slash national emissions of planet warming gases 40 percent from a 2005 baseline by the end of the decade. That’s because few GOP lawmakers have commented on the climate provisions of the legislation.
Romney and eight other Republican members of Congress who have previously expressed concerns about human-caused climate change didn’t respond to questions from E&E News about the bill. They include Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, the GOP co-chairman of the Bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, the last remaining House Republican who voted in favor of a 2009 bill that would have capped emissions and created a system for trading carbon credits.
In a statement after the Sunday vote that didn’t mention climate change, Romney said the “one-sided, partisan bill” would reduce oil and gas production and described the package as “a bag of hammers.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who in 2009 co-sponsored the the failed cap-and-trade bill with Lieberman, issued a press release accusing Democrats of “turning the economy upside down and increasing taxes all in the name of climate change.” Graham is also a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus.
One Republican wasn’t afraid to talk: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, a member of the Conservative Climate Caucus who plans to vote against the climate bill.
“If Democrats were serious about addressing climate change risks and the realities Americans are facing today under president Biden’s inflation and energy crisis, they would be working with Republicans to unleash our abundant energy resources and promote more technological innovation,” said Sean Kelly, a spokesperson for McMorris Rodgers, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “Instead, they are raising taxes to give rich people tax credits on electric cars and creating an army of IRS agents to snoop into people’s bank accounts.”
Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), the founder of the Conservative Climate Caucus, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the “Inflation Reduction Act” (Climatewire, June 23, 2021).
The other Republican lawmakers who didn’t respond to emailed questions about the bill were Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine as well as Reps. Garret Graves of Louisiana, Bruce Westerman of Arkansas and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.
Lieberman, who spent 24 years in the Senate and turned 80 in February, said he’s tired of watching Republicans vote against legislation that could prevent the planet from overheating.
“This Republican refusal to deal with the obvious problem of climate change must stop,” he said.
‘A little bit crafty’
Sen. Lindsey Graham (left) and then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman speak to reporters in 2012. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
Some advocates of bipartisanship say people shouldn’t read too much into moderate Republican votes against the “Inflation Reduction Act.”
“Why give into the Machiavellian move by the majority when you don’t need to? I mean, they got 50 [votes], so pass it yourself,” former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) said of Senate Democrats. “It may seem a little bit crafty. But on the other hand, you know, people can count.”
Inglis, who is now executive director of the conservative climate advocacy group republicEn.org, pointed to his own experience in Congress.
While he acknowledged the reality of human-made climate change in the early 2000s — an unpopular position for Republicans at that time — Inglis voted against the cap-and-trade bill that sought to address the problem. Despite that strategic vote, he was ousted in a primary election in 2010.
“So all my craftiness didn’t work out, did it?” he said.
Much has changed since Inglis left office.
Few Republicans now deny the existence of climate change, with extreme flooding, massive wildfires and other climate impacts visible across the country. Although some conservatives still don’t accept that burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, strong majorities of voters do, polling shows.
That helped make it possible for Democrats to be on the verge of passing a major climate bill. But that doesn’t mean the “Inflation Reduction Act” will be enough to reverse the party’s flagging political fortunes.
“The passage of this bill isn’t what will affect Democrats’ midterm hopes; it is whether people actually feel their economic situation improving, something that will truly have very little to do with this bill one way or the other at least in the near-term,” Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson wrote in her newsletter earlier this week.
Nonpartisan political forecasters expect Republicans to flip the House and potentially the Senate in November. The GOP could win back the White House as soon as 2024.
As a result, centrist environmental groups are looking to protect the climate policies the Democrat-only climate bill would create or expand.
“We don’t want to have any backsliding,” said Ben Pendergrass, a former Senate Republican staffer who works on government affairs at the Citizens Climate Lobby, which helped launch the Climate Solutions Caucus. “For some of these wins that have been achieved in a more partisan fashion, we want to do as much as we can to make sure that — even if they don’t like the process — the underlying policies will be preserved no matter who holds the gavel.”
‘Deal with this problem as Americans’
Centrists also hope that Republicans will soon get over the resentment caused by Senate Democrats’ use of the reconciliation process to finally pass a climate bill.
“It creates some ill will,” Inglis said. “But I think, as to the climate things, the ill will is going to pass pretty quickly. Because there’s a constituency for an extension of those wind and solar credits in Texas and Iowa and lots of other places too.”
And more legislative action will be required to address climate change. The emission cuts the “Inflation Reduction Act” would enable are still not enough for the United States to meet its midcentury goal of offsetting more emissions than the nation produces.
Hitting that target would give the planet a shot at staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming from preindustrial levels, a temperature increase that scientists believe would lead to the virtual collapse of coral reef ecosystems, regular extreme heat waves and other damaging impacts. The world has already warmed at least 1.1 C, according to NASA.
With that in mind, Inglis and other centrists hope Republicans will, as Romney put it in his Atlantic essay, “grasp the mantle of leadership our country so badly needs.”
“It’s time for Republicans to take off their Republican hats and just deal with this problem as Americans,” said Lieberman, who is also working as senior counsel at the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.
“What was done in the [climate] legislation is really significant. But obviously in the years ahead, there’s going to be a need to do a lot more of it,” he said. “Really, it ought to be bipartisan.”
Reporter Nick Sobczyk contributed to this report.
A version of this report first ran in E&E News’ Climatewire. Get access to more comprehensive and in-depth reporting on the energy transition, natural resources, climate change and more in E&E News.
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