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US Senate blocks vote on Green New Deal resolution

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US Senate blocks vote on Green New Deal resolution

The U.S. Senate blocked a vote on the Green New Deal resolution on March 26, reflecting GOP resistance to the proposal's sweeping energy targets and frustration from Democrats who wanted more time to debate and hold hearings on the measure.

In an unusual outcome, no Senators voted to invoke cloture on the resolution — Senate Joint Resolution 8 — meaning the Senate could not proceed to a vote on passage. A total of 57 mostly GOP Senators opposed cloture, while 43 Democratic Senators voted "present" rather than yay or nay.

SNL Image

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., speaks at a rally for Green New Deal on March 26, 2019, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Source: AP

In early February, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., released identical non-binding resolutions in their respective chambers calling on the U.S. Congress to form a Green New Deal.

Among other things, the resolution promoted a "10-year national mobilization" to help the U.S. meet all its electricity demand with "clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources," a huge feat given the country currently gets around 60% of its power from coal and natural gas. The proposal also sought to have the U.S. achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and called for jobs and healthcare guarantees for all Americans.

The resolution was crafted largely as a rallying cry to spur action on climate change and drew praise from Democrats eager to tackle global warming. However, it did not detail the steps needed to achieve its goals. Separate legislation would, therefore, need to be introduced and approved by various Congressional committees, Markey said during the proposal's rollout.

Despite the lack of any such bills so far, Republicans decried the potential costs of the Green New Deal and said the resolution underscored a broad move by Democrats toward "socialist" policies. GOP criticism has been particularly fierce as the 2020 presidential elections loom, with all Senate Democrats running for the White House signed on a co-sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution.

To ramp up pressure on Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reintroduced the proposal as a Senate joint resolution that would carry the force of law if the House and Senate approved it and the president signed the measure. But its chances for Senate passage were almost non-existent from the start, with Republicans in charge of the Senate and unified in their opposition to the measure. In addition, President Donald Trump has been a vocal critic of the Green New Deal and worked to roll back federal climate change policies, assuring his likely rejection of the resolution.

Markey and other Democrats blasted McConnell's move for a quick vote as a "sham," saying Republicans have largely avoided action on climate change in recent years and noting that Congress has yet to hold hearings on the Green New Deal.

"Senator McConnell wants to sabotage the call for climate action," Markey said at a March 26 press briefing. "He and his [Republican] colleagues want to make a mockery of the national debate that we have started with the Green New Deal, and that's because they have no plan to fight climate change [and] ... no intention of passing legislation to combat climate change."

But McConnell said it was "stunning to see my colleagues so angry and upset at the opportunity to back up their new philosophy with their votes." Highlighting his concerns with the bill, McConnell repeated rough estimates that achieving the resolution's energy, climate, and social goals would cost $93 trillion in its first 10 years and cause household electric bills to jump to over $300 a month.

"This might sound like a neat idea in places like San Francisco or New York, the places that the Democratic Party seems totally focused on these days," McConnell said. "But communities practically everywhere else would be absolutely crushed."

Alternative proposals

As the Green New Deal struggles to gain support from Republicans and some centrist Democrats, lawmakers have rolled out alternative plans to address climate change.

On March 25, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called for a "New Manhattan Project" for clean energy that would double federal energy research funding in the next five years. The plan would also center on 10 "grand challenges" to develop new and cheap clean energy sources, including breakthroughs on advanced nuclear reactors, carbon capture, battery storage, "cheaper solar," and electric vehicles, among other technologies.

The proposal came days after Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., who chairs House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, released a set of principles he said should be the basis for any future comprehensive climate legislation. The nine principles included having the nation adopt science-based targets to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by midcentury, creating millions of jobs in such things as clean energy and advanced manufacturing, and mitigating climate threats to vulnerable communities.

In addition to those proposals, GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is expected to release a "Green Real Deal" resolution soon that calls on the government to promote innovation in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Politico reported March 22. But the resolution will not set specific emissions reduction targets or seek to exclude certain energy technologies.