Merkel on climate change, and the partisan divide
By Juliet Eilperin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Congress and the Obama administration to take bold steps to address global warming Tuesday, even as Senate Democrats and Republicans feuded over whether to press ahead with their chamber's version of a climate bill.
Speaking at a joint session of Congress, Merkel described climate change as one of the "great tests" of the 21st century. She took pains to compliment lawmakers and the administration for the fact that they "consider the protection of our climate a very important task," even as she suggested they move faster.
"We all know, we have no time to lose," she said.
While the entire Democratic side gave those remarks a standing ovation, most Republicans -- including key swing votes, such as Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.) -- stayed seated. When Merkel added that curbing greenhouse gas emissions would spur the "growth in innovative jobs" worldwide, the same partisan divide marked lawmakers' reaction.
Merkel also tried to assuage U.S. lawmakers' concerns that any agreement coming out of international climate talks in Copenhagen next month would not include binding commitments from China and India, saying these nations would make serious emissions cuts once the leaders of industrialized nations "show ourselves ready to adopt binding commitments."
"In December the world will look to us, to the Americans and the Europeans," she said.
Even as Merkel urged lawmakers to act together to address global warming, the two parties faced off moments before at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee markup of climate legislation.
All 12 committee Democrats showed up Tuesday morning to take up the bill co-authored by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and the committee's chairman, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Just one Republican, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, appeared briefly to speak for 15 minutes about the seven-member minority's opposition to the proceedings.
Republicans complain that the Environmental Protection Agency has not done a full-scale economic analysis of the Kerry-Boxer bill; Democrats respond the measure is largely based on House-passed climate bill, which has undergone such a study, and the EPA calculated how the Senate bill's changes would affect its overall cost.
Sitting in the middle of the committee room at an ad-hoc table while reporters typed away on the dais typically reserved for senators, Democrats decried the Republicans' absence.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) noted that the bill would change significantly as it made its way to the floor, making any immediate EPA analysis obsolete. And Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) suggested GOP lawmakers search the Internet if they needed to learn more about the current climate bill.
"We've got enough information. We've got plenty of information, and we're ready to make decisions," Cardin said. "We live in a world that is being poisoned by greenhouse gases of our own making."
But Voinovich, with his voice cracking with emotion at one point, pleaded with his colleagues to let EPA run a more thorough computer modeling run with different inputs and assumptions that he had requested out of "just decency."
"This is not something on my part that I'm trying to con you out of," he told them, saying the committee Republican boycott was "not a ruse. ... This is a really important issue."
But Boxer -- who invited EPA officials to brief the committee Tuesday afternoon on the abbreviated analysis the agency has done on the Senate bill -- said the panel was ready to move forward.
"We're just going to be here every day until they join us," she told her fellow Democrats, just before leaving to listen to Merkel's speech. "The reason they gave not to work on it just doesn't hold up to the light of day."
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