House Passes Landmark Climate Bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives passed sweeping climate change legislation just after 7:15pm tonight by 219-212. The bill is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s signature issue and a top priority of the Obama Administration. It now goes to the Senate which is aiming for passage in October. Pelosi decided just Monday to fast track the legislation, seizing what she considered a ripe moment for passage (and fearing that if left to idle, votes might be lost).

Eight Republicans voted for the bill and 44 Dems voted against it. The deciding three votes came in a rush: three Democrats, Jim Costa and Bob Filner of California and Henry Cuellar of Texas. Republicans shrugged off Pelosi’s victory. “The Senate is never going to take this up and all they did today was give us a bunch of 30-second ads,” said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps elected Republican candidates to the House. Opponents of the bill also pointed to President Bill Clinton’s BTU energy tax which passed the House 16 years ago 219-213 only to die in conference after a coalition of business groups worked to bring it down. The vote became a key part of 1994 G.O.P. landslide with 53 seats – 30 incumbents who voted for it and 23 open seats where a member supported it – changing hands.

The difference here, though, is business is split on this bill with utilities, including the Edison Election Institute, Wall Street, clean coal groups and retailers such as Nike and Starbucks supporting the bill and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and petroleum groups opposing it. 

Dems cheered passage of the legislation, dubbed ACES — the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and Democratic leaders held a victorious press conference. “When I became Speaker, I established a select committee to address the issues we dealt with here today,” Pelosi told reporters. “When Chairmen Waxman and Markey passed the bill out of committee a month ago it was a game changer as was this vote here today.” Though President Obama, his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, former Vice President Al Gore and current Vice President Joe Biden all lobbied members on the bill, the vote is a particular victory for Pelosi who spent much of the week personally persuading members.

Perhaps it was an omen, or perhaps a sign of global warming, but as the gavel came down a thunderstorm that had been threatening all day erupted violently over the Capitol hampering the escape route of members rushing home to start a week-long recess for Independence Day.