How Many Democrats Will Join In Thursday’s ‘$47 Billion Giveaway To Big Oil’?

It’s rare indeed for President Obama to threaten to veto legislation coming from a Congress controlled by his fellow Democrats. But that’s just what the White House says it plans to do with a so-called “disapproval resolution” scheduled to come up in the Senate Thursday.

The bill was authored by a Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and is derided by the spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as “a $47 billion giveaway to big oil companies.”

But with the potential for some Democrats to defect and support the Murkowski bill, which would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change, the threat is serious enough for the White House to call for a veto.

With oil continuing to leak into the Gulf of Mexico daily, many Democrats argue the Murkowski legislation would halt efforts by the EPA to reduce the oil consumption of cars and trucks sold in the United States.

“I find it strange that, in the face of the crisis unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, our Republican colleagues want to increase America’s oil dependence by billions of barrels,” says Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). “When Senator Murkowski’s resolution comes to the Senate floor, it will be time for each of us to decide whose side we are on. I will choose to stand with the American people for a new energy future. Unfortunately, some others will stand with polluters and Big Oil, who would like nothing better than to remove the regulatory requirements that would help reduce our dependence on oil. What we are seeing in the Gulf today is what happens when regulatory enforcement is too weak to deter risky behavior. The American people have had enough.”

Murkowski first introduced her resolution in January, designed to block the EPA’s plans to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, which stems from a 2007 Supreme Court decision which gave the agency the power to do so.

The Bush administration declined to exercise that power, but the Obama administration in December issued its finding that greenhouse gases endanger life, an “endangerment finding,” which began a process for the EPA, for the first time, to issue emissions regulations on a national scale.

Murkowski, however, is using a provision of the the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to prevent from the EPA from moving forward with those regulations. Enacted in 1996, that law gives Congress the opportunity to essentially veto actions taken by the executive branch. It was used, notably, to reject sweeping ergonomics regulations put forward at the very end of the Clinton administration.

In a strange twist in which so many Democratic bills have been subject to a GOP filibuster, the terms of the CRA state that a disapproval resolution, such as Murkowski’s, cannot be so blocked.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski says it is an “insult” to suggest her resolution has anything to do with the massive Gulf oil disaster.

Although Murkowski is leading Republicans to pass her resolutions, some Democrats are joining her, including the powerful Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). Representing a top coal state, Rockefeller has long opposed current proposals to regulate climate change. Responsible for about half the nation’s electric power generation, coal is a key carbon emitter.

“I intend to vote for Senator Murkowski’s Resolution of Disapproval because I believe we must send a strong message that the fate of West Virginia’s economy, our manufacturing industries, and our workers should not be solely in the hands of EPA,” says Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “It is not clear whether this resolution will pass, and the White House issued a statement on Tuesday threatening a veto if it does pass. But my vote is squarely in favor of securing West Virginia’s future.”

The question Thursday will become: in an anti-imbument-driven election year, do enough Democrats join Rockefeller to actually require Obama to wield that veto pen?

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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