As Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., pushes global warming legislation forward, some Democrats were showing a hint of frustration with their party's agenda.
"I just don't think climate change is going to be on the floor this year," Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said. "Trying to restart our economic engine and trying to get this country back to work -- to me that is the most important issue."
Republicans boycotted Boxer's Environment and Public Works Committee hearings on the climate bill, authored by Boxer and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, was the lone Republican to show up at the Environment and Public Works Committee markup. He told Boxer that Republicans did not want to move forward until the Environmental Protection Agency provided a full analysis of the Kerry-Boxer bill, which could take four weeks.
"Madam Chairman, Ohio can't afford to lose any more jobs," Voinovich told Boxer. "So for the sake of workers in my state and elsewhere whose jobs are hanging in the balance, slow down, take a deep breath, let EPA do what it needs to do, and let's come back in 4 to 5 weeks and have a markup. Otherwise, you will do great damage to the traditions of this committee and make it harder to reach a bipartisan compromise on climate change legislation.
The Kerry-Boxer bill is similar to global warming legislation the House passed in July, but more stringent. It calls for reducing emissions by 20 percent in the next decade from 2005 levels and would sell and give transferable pollution credits to carbon emitters. Critics say the bill would hurt the economy and lead to job loss.
Kerry acknowledged the timeline for moving the bill had slowed, but he blamed it solely on the health care debate consuming the calendar.
"That is going to push us back," Kerry said, adding that the goal should now be getting the bill passed in committee in time for President Obama's scheduled appearance at the December climate summit in Denmark.
But even if health care were completed, it would be nearly impossible for the Senate to pass the Kerry-Boxer bill, with Democrats of all leanings complaining about its potential to hurt the economy and calling for significant modifications.
Taking up the bill next year will likely prove to be even more politically treacherous, as 19 Democrats are up for re-election and several of them, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are considered quite vulnerable.
Sen. Jay Rockerfeller, D-W.Va., is opposed to the Kerry-Boxer bill, but is hoping more moderate climate change legislation could be considered next year. Beyond 2010, Rockerfeller noted, "getting the 60 votes is going to be hard and maybe the Democrats will have fewer senators."