Christopher Prandoni
With the House poised to pass the Upton-Whitfield-Inhofe Energy Tax Prevention Act [pdf], all eyes are on the Senate to see if Republicans can muster up the 60 votes necessary to prevent the EPA’s backdoor implementation of cap-and-trade. Hoping to parlay the House’s action into a Senate victory, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unexpectedly offered the Energy Tax Prevention Act as an amendment to the Small Business Innovation Research re-authorization bill.

Fearing that the McConnell Amendment might actually pass, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) introduced his toothless EPA legislation in order to undermine support for the GOP alternative and give Democrats cover in 2012.

Conservatives have seen this story play out before. A year ago Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was building support for her Resolution of Disapproval filed under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) which would prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Due to obscure CRA rules, Republicans only needed to garner 50 votes—as oppose to the usual 60 vote requisite—and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had to allow a vote.

With 23 Democrats up for reelection in 2012, many couldn’t afford to vote against Murkowski’s Resolution of Disapproval but, much to their constituents’ dismay, wanted the EPA to move forward with its regulations. Relieving Democrats from this catch 22, Senator Rockefeller proposed a separate EPA bill which Democrats could hide behind but would do little to halt the EPA’s march.

When it came time to vote for the CRA, most Democrats acknowledged the EPA’s problematic regulations but didn’t vote for the Murkowski measure saying they would vote for the Rockefeller bill when it came to the floor. The Murkowski CRA failed and the 111th Congress came and went without a vote on Rockefeller’s bill.

Sen. Rockefeller is back at it again, this time trying to scuttle the McConnell amendment. Next week, Reid is expected to hold votes on the two amendments so some Democrats can vote for the McConnell amendment and some can vote for the Rockefeller amendment, but neither will pass. Given that the EPA debate has moved to the forefront of voters’ minds, this is a risky strategy for Democrats up in 2012.

Substantively, the two bills couldn’t be farther apart. The McConnell Amendment prevents the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, unless Congress explicitly tells them to. The Rockefeller amendment only delays a handful of EPA regulations for two years, implicitly endorsing the EPA’s cap-and-trade scheme.

Christopher Prandoni

Christopher Prandoni serves as a Federal Affairs Manager of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).