On a slim majority of 219 for and 212 against, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that would promote clean energy and energy efficiency, and cap US emissions of climate-disrupting greenhouse gases.
Eight Republicans bucked the party line to vote in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act: David Reichert (WA-8th), Mary Bono Mack (Calif-45th), Michael Castle (Del., At-large), Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2nd), John McHugh (NY-23rd), Chris Smith (NJ-4th), Leonard Lance (NJ-7th), and Mark Kirk (Ill.-10th).
It's the first time a move to cut the USA's greenhouse gas pollution has ever passed in either chamber of Congress. And the bill's passage is a big win for President Barack Obama, who in the past week called in unequivocal terms for the House to approve the bill. Taking action on global warming was one of the signature issues of Obama's campaign for the presidency, and he has been steadily touting the potential for clean energy jobs to help restore the nation's economy, and bring family-wage-paying manufacturing jobs back to the United States.
The bill now goes on to the Senate, where another clean energy bill is already making its way through the committee process.
During three hours of debate on the legislation, GOP objections centered largely on the purported hike in energy costs that the measure would inflict on average Americans -- although Republicans frequently cited discredited figures to try and make that point.
The GOP made a set of arguments familiar to long-time climate action watchers: that there was no point in the US curbing carbon dioxide emissions while developing nations like China, India, and Brazil had yet to commit to the same. Such a move would raise domestic energy costs, send American jobs overseas and put the nation at a disadvantage in the global economy, the GOP claimed.
Supporters countered that the GOP record on energy policy was a proven failure, with jobs already fled to China thanks to the party's lack of an energy policy, and that the legislation would create jobs.
The final hour or so of debate on the American Clean Energy and Security Act featured Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) reading from a 300-page "managers amendment" to the bill, introduced around 3 a.m. this morning by House leaders. Although House rules do not allow filibusters, Boehner took advantage of little-known House courtesies to effectively stall the final vote on the bill, saying legislators needed to know what they were voting on.
If the tactic was meant to give opponents time to secure a few more votes against the bill, the effort was ultimately in vain.
"Early on, Boehner was interrupted by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who asked "'Do we have historical records that might be broken tonight in an attempt to try to get some members to leave during a close vote?'", writes Politico, calling itthe John Boehner Experience:
Waxman was referring to last Thursday, when the GOP broke a day-voting record by calling for 53 procedural votes, grinding the House business to halt.
Boehner hit back: "The chairman has had his 30 years to put this bill together," a reference to Waxman's push for a similar bill in the early 1980s.
The California Democrat, known for holding his tongue and biding his time, slumped back into his chair and began working his BlackBerry.
Word earlier in the day was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Energy Secretary Chu and other senior cabinet members, and President Obama himself, had spent the past two days personally gathering up support for the legislation.
A particularly dramatic moment in the day's dueling statements came from Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who'd reportedly been lobbied hard by the Obama administration to vote for the bill. Despite a lack of enthusiasm about the bill, Doggett said, he'd decided to vote in favor of it while listening to the House debate for three reasons.
First, after "[L]istening to the 'Flat Earth Society,' the climate denials, some of the most inane arguments I have ever heard on refusing to act on this vital national security challenge," Doggett said, harshly criticizing GOP colleagues who denied the science and reality of global warming.
"Second, I believe there's still some hope to make improvements to this bill once it gets out of the House...And third, I'm convinced that unless we act today, the Senate will not act. And unless we act in this Congress, we will not get the international agreements that we need to address this serious challenge."
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