Senate Democrats are hoping to complete the task that their colleagues in the House began two weeks ago -- passing the most ambitious climate bill ever. But they face huge obstacles from both Republicans and members of their own caucus.
The bill would, for the first time, impose limits on greenhouse gases, with the goal of an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Senate leadership would like to have a vote on the legislation by August, before the talks on an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gases begin.
Leading GOPers say they have no intention of supporting the bill and have begun mapping out a strategy to undermine it. Sources tell the Huffington Post that the talking points currently circulating in Republican chambers revolve around high energy prices, tax increases, jobs shipped overseas, and an overall devastating effect on the economy.
Sen. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the environmental committee, is an ardent opponent of the notion that human activity is contributing to climate change and has gone on record labeling global warming a "hoax."
When asked if there is any way to structure this legislation in order for Inhofe to consider supporting it, Matt Dempsey, communications director for Republicans on the committee said, "Absolutely not."
"Senator Inhofe believes this bill is an attack on rural America," Dempsey said, adding that such a bill would create higher taxes in the South and Midwest than in California and New York. Inhofe has called it "all economic pain for no climate gain."
While GOP leaders have predicted that the bill will fail, they are not optimistic about killing it before it reaches the floor of the Senate. "The majority has a 12-7 split on the committee so whatever they put forward will pass -- there's no question about that," Dempsey said. Instead, the Republican leadership is focusing on warning members of the party not to defect in the final vote.
"The more people know what's in this bill, the more likely they are going to oppose it," Dempsey continued. "We're focused on explaining its consequences and we feel that Republicans who support it will have to justify their votes when they go back home."
Inhofe and his GOP colleagues intend to use their websites and social networks such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to generate grassroots support for their stance.
Progressives have been eagerly awaiting this opportunity, said Darren Springer, legislative assistant on energy for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who sits on the EPW Committee. Progressives will support, according to Springer, "a strong renewable energy standard and strong energy efficiency standard on the floor. Overall, we want to see targets consistent with the science." But Springer is a realist, and warns that achieving those targets will be an "uphill climb."
Barbara Boxer, a key Democrat and Chair of the environmental committee, will be leading the progressive caucus in the negotiations. She has championed the need for a strong bill, saying that it will "trigger so many benefits for the American people -- energy efficiency, new jobs, cleaner air, healthier families, and energy independence."
Some Democrats will be difficult to win over, particularly those who represent states with a heavy fossil fuel industry presence.
According to various sources, the Democrats most likely to defect are Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.). Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, will also be a tough vote to secure.
The bill's backers may hedge their bets against losing some of their own by reaching out to moderate Republicans.
"I think [Maine Sens.] Snowe and Collins might legitimately consider voting for the bill," said a senior Senate staffer. "Other than those two, I don't see many likely possibilities." Others say that there is a small chance of getting Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) as well.
So far, there has been no talk of progressives forsaking the bill because of concerns that it does too little, as some did in the House.
With all these hurdles, Democrats are nervous about the final outcome but determined to pass a strong piece of legislation.
"We have to get it done this year," said the staffer. "The House bill has major defects, but at least it's something to work with. It's going to be very difficult in the Senate. Six committees have jurisdiction."