WASHINGTON -- House lawmakers skipped out of town on Friday until after the November elections, but not before pushing through a sweeping anti-environmental package that has no chance of becoming law.
Republican leaders teed up the Stop The War On Coal Act, H.R. 3409, as their last vote before lawmakers hit the campaign trail full time. It passed 233 to 175, with 19 Democrats joining nearly all House Republicans in voting for it.
Despite its title, the bill isn't just about the coal industry: it repackages four previously passed House GOP bills, plus adds in another one, aimed at blocking carbon pollution standards. Specifically, the package would eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency's clean car standards, nullify the EPA's mercury and air toxic standards, weaken the Clean Water Act and block efforts to reduce damage from coal mining.
The bill already has a White House veto threat on it, and there's no chance it would move in the Senate, but Republicans went ahead and passed it anyway. They argued that their package would spur job growth -- the number one message for everyone ahead of the elections -- by removing regulations on the coal industry and on energy development in general.
"It's about the millions of Americans and American businesses that are paying skyrocketing prices, the 23 million Americans underemployed. And yet we've got an administration that wants to attack the very reliable energy source that would fuel a resurgence in manufacturing that would put people back to work," Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), the bill's author, said to GOP cheers on the House floor. "Let's get Americans back to work and stop the administration's war on coal."
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been trying to cast Obama as an enemy of the coal industry. Romney released a pair of TV ads this week that shows coal industry workers worrying about their futures.
The reality, though, is that the bills rolled into the package would have next to no effect on job creation. In fact, rather than increasing employment, the package increases the likelihood of fatalities.
"The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that emissions reductions resulting from meeting these standards will prevent as many as 11,000 avoidable premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks annually," reads a Statement of Administration Policy, issued Thursday by the Office of Management and Budget.
Democrats dubbed the measure "the single worst anti-environmental bill" taken up by the House and wondered aloud why Congress isn't working past Friday to make progress on bills in need of attention, namely the budget, the farm bill and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
"Every day in America, a woman dies of domestic violence," House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said during a press event ahead of the vote. "So it's not just American workers, it's not just American farmers, it's not just American taxpayers being left behind. ... It is women who are fighting for their very lives."
The House won't be back in session until Nov. 13. Friday's departure marks one of the earliest dates that Congress has adjourned before Election Day since 1960.