This vote was on a motion to instruct conferees on the fiscal 2010 budget resolution to insist on including language that would prohibit any future climate change legislation from being considered through the fast-track budgetary process known as “reconciliation.”
The jockeying was spurred by a proposal put forth by President Obama that would implement a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions that would raise $646 billion in revenues over 10 years. A “cap-and-trade” system would basically cap the amount of climate change-affecting pollution that an industry could emit, and then set up an “emissions allowances” system whereby industries that need to purchase more than their cap can buy allowances from those who fall below their cap.
These “motions to instruct” are intended to provide guidance to the conferees on a bill (conferees are members of the House and Senate who meet to hammer out the two chambers’ differences on a bill). Motions to instruct are not binding on conferees, and as such mostly serve as a platform from which lawmakers can talk about a range of topics, or to put the majority of the chamber on record as endorsing an idea that bears on the conference. The motion was made to the budget resolution that serves as the blueprint for Congress’ budget priorities in fiscal 2010. The budget resolution sets overall spending targets for the Appropriations committees and outlines other budget rules.
The “reconciliation” process is intended for bills that reduce the deficit, but sometimes gets used to push through must-pass bills. This is because of the stringent rules surrounding the process that basically ensure that any bill being considered in this fashion will become enacted.
The motion to instruct was offered by Mike Johanns, R-Neb. Johanns said his amendment simply says “that we will not use the reconciliation process to pass cap-and-trade legislation.”
Kent Conrad, D-N.D., pointed out that there aren’t any reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution to begin with, and that the House has indicated it has no desire for reconciliation to be used for cap and trade, rendering the amendment moot.
By a vote of 66-28, the motion was agreed to. Every Republican present voted for the motion. Of Democrats present, 27 voted for the motion and 26 voted against it (including the most progressive members). The end result is that the fiscal 2010 budget resolution went forward with non-binding language to instruct conferees on the final measure to include a prohibition against using reconciliation to pass future climate change legislation.