President Barack Obama's much-touted emission cap bill has hit the speed breaker in the US Senate.
He might be talking of saving the planet from greenhouse gases, but the new 'messiah' has serious problems in his own backyard.
After two days of hearings, leaders of his own Democratic party chose to mothball the measure until September. They blamed a full schedule on health care reform and the president's Supreme Court nominee for the delay.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer said her self-imposed deadline of early August for finishing writing a bill to combat global warming has been put off until after Congress returns from a recess that ends in early September.
"We'll do it as soon as we get back" from that break, Boxer told reporters.
Asked if this delay jeopardizes chances the Senate will pass a bill this year, Boxer said, "Not a bit...we'll be in (session) until Christmas, so I'm not worried about it." But Boxer did not guarantee Congress will be able to finish a bill and deliver it to Obama by December, when he plans to attend an international summit on climate change in Copenhagen.
"I want to take this as far as we can take it (before Copenhagen). The more we do the better," Boxer said.
The climate bill, which puts a national cap on emissions of greenhouse gases, faces withering opposition from Republicans. Apparently the Democrats, even though reinvigorated after the fall of the notorious Bush, are still reluctant to take the conservative lobby head on.
At a hearing before the Energy and Natural Resrources Committee, GOP Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri let fly from the start. "I think the American people and certainly my Missouri constituents deserve to know how the legislation we consider will impose new energy taxes on them, kill their jobs, punish the Midwest and South, help China and India, and construct a new bureaucratic nightmare to implement a carbon cap-and-trade program."
Opponents are especially worried about how the climate bill would raise energy prices and thus prices on most goods manufactured in the Unied States. Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky told witnesses from the Obama administration, who testified that the bill is necessary to curb global warming, "I have more than once pointed out that any action to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions will be pointless unless there are similar limits on emissions in China, India, Russia and other countries."
China recently passed the U.S. as the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, and India is not far behind. They say they will not lower emissions unless the U.S. does first.
Deal-making is the only way Democratic backers of the bill will be able to muster the 60 votes to pass the climate measure and hold off a filibuster from opponents. There is dissension in the Democratic ranks too, it has been reported.
Several senators made it clear they want to see more help for new nuclear power plants, which do not emit greenhouse gases. Agricultural interests run strong in the Senate; every senator has farmers among his or her constituents, unlike in the House, where urban districts don't include many farm interests. So the bill is likely to see concessions to soften the blow of higher fuel and fertilizer costs, and perhaps include more federal aid for making ethanol from corn, Christopher Joyce reported for National People's Radio.
Lobbyists and energy analysts calculate that about two dozen senators are on the fence right now. Bill supporters say they'll need to capture over half of them to get the votes to pass the bill. With the postponement, they'll have the rest of the summer to try.