Kerry, Graham & Lieberman Launch Climate Change Framework

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Yesterday, when Republicans on the Senate Environment and Publics Works Committee boycotted a mark up of Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry’s climate change bill, things looked bleak for getting a bipartisan measure to the Senate floor. The atmosphere poisoned even the most eager Republican for a climate change bill, retiring Ohio Senator George Voinovich. “What I’m doing today is I’m pleading to you and to the chairman, as a matter of the golden rule or the second great commandment, or just — just decency,” [Voinovich] said, his voice breaking. “This is not something on my part that I’m trying to con you out of… I think we can get something done. I’m asking Madam Chairman and I’m asking this committee: Give us some time.”

The Republicans on the committee want to wait for the EPA to finish a full analysis of the bill – a process that could take more than a month. That’s too much time for Dems, who are pushing to get something drafted before the December United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen.

The EPW Committee is one of the most ideologically polarized on the Hill. Boxer, of California, is a devoted environmentalist. Whereas the committee’s top Republican, Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe, once gave me one of my favorite quotes of my career about six years ago: “Global warming is the second largest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people, the first being the separation of church and state.”

Today Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham called a press conference to announce they’re working on a “parallel track” with the blessing of Boxer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to construct a framework that can garner 60 votes to pass the Senate.The three represent more of the middle ground in the debate than Boxer or Inhofe. “We will be working very closely with the White House over the next couple weeks with a view of trying top pull together ultimately to Senator Reid and the leadership a piece of legislation that can pass with 60 votes, hopefully more,” Kerry told reporters.

The framework would encompass a cap and trade program and would include some provisions important to Republicans left out of the Kerry/Boxer bill – such as a measure strengthening nuclear power in America. “At the end of the day, for us to be successful the energy independence piece – off shore drilling for oil and gas has to be done in a meaningful way to add to our inventory and create jobs,” Graham said. “The nuclear piece has to create a renaissance of nuclear power that will help solve the climate problem as well as create millions of new jobs. The clean coal piece has to be meaningful because we ave 250 years of coal supplies and we want to use it in an environmentally sensible way but the pollution controls have to be meaningful… At the end of the day we have to produce a product that is meaningful in all areas.”

Having twittered that the trio are “drafting” legislation, I received a call from Kerry’s office. Apparently, creating a framework based off the six versions passed by the relevant committees of jurisdiction and deciding what can and cannot pass with 60 votes (even after I directly asked Kerry in today’s press conference if this will form the basis of the final bill on the floor and he said, “Yes, it will”) does not construe “drafting” legislation. So, let’s think of Kerry, Graham and Lieberman as Reid’s very own climate czars: they will whittle down ideas and take him their final recommendations.

The move bolsters the chances that some climate change legislation will make it to the Senate floor. Though any timeline is still complicated by the eternally delayed process of health care reform. After all, the 2010 elections are rapidly approaching and the odds of passing a massive climate change bill grow dimmer as every month ticks by. To that end, rumors yesterday swirled on the Hill that the bill may get shunted till after the 2010 midterm elections. “Yes, I’ve heard that,” Senator Jay Rockefeller told reporters. “And the idea makes me sad.”