Big Climate Win In The Senate, But The Battle Is Not Over

Bill Scher

The linchpin of the international Paris climate deal is the Green Climate Fund, which helps developing countries grapple with climate change. The Obama administration pledged to contribute $3 billion to the fund by 2020, but the Republicans have been pledging to thwart him ever since.

So it was a surprise this week when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $500 million payment to the Green Climate Fund in a voice vote. Why did Republicans surrender?

First, a little back story.

Republicans were promising to block any payments to the climate fund before the Paris deal was even signed, in an effort to scare off other countries from forging the deal at all.

When that didn’t work, Republicans refused to appropriate any money to the fund in last December’s omnibus spending bill. But they didn’t include language preventing Obama from tapping money from other pots, and in March he made the first $500 million payment.

Republicans immediately accused Obama of going around Congress (when in fact Congress chose not to cut off his access to other funding streams). In May, a trio of senators introduced a bill that would prevent Obama from making any more payments. And the initial draft of the foreign operations appropriations bill also included such language.

But the full Appropriations Committee is nearly evenly split — 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats, and includes two blue state Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mark Kirk (Illinois). Kirk is up for re-election this year, and is considered to be behind. Both have no incentive to be lumped in with the anti-science conservatives. (A third committee Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham, is part of a small group of Republicans who say they want action on climate change.)

So when Collins and Kirk teamed up with Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley for an amendment that scrapped the language blocking any payments and kicked in another $500 million to boot, that gave the pro-science camp a clear majority. Republicans then opted to quickly approve the amendment via voice vote, saving everyone the trouble of having their positions recorded.

The question now is whether the provision can survive the full Congress. But the December budget vote gives cause for optimism.

While Republicans enjoy posturing about the climate to satisfy their conservative base — like when they cast a meaningless vote to block Obama’s EPA climate regulations, knowing Obama would veto the bill — when they had opportunity to make a big spectacle and prevent Obama from following through on his pledge to the world, they flinched. They crafted a provision that allowed for both posturing and presidential action.

This week, they flinched again. Deep down, Republicans seem to know that it is a political loser with the broad middle to sabotage the president on climate.

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