By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republicans on Tuesday defeated the “Green New Deal” resolution that called for tackling climate change by moving the United States off fossil fuels, while Democrats said the vote was a political stunt on an issue that will not die.
The vote was 57 against the resolution in the 100-member chamber, with 43 Democrats voting “present,” avoiding an up-or-down vote. Republicans won over Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and one independent senator, Angus King, who usually votes with that party.
The Green New Deal, introduced last month by Democrats, marked an initial attempt to define legislation to create government-led investments in clean energy like wind and solar power, infrastructure and social programs.
Democrats have said the plan, which is backed by most of the party’s presidential candidates, was designed to spur debate during the 2020 campaign on the intricate problem of how to tackle climate change while boosting the economy, not to force the party to take sides in a quick vote.
But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forced a vote before the plan had the chance for a national debate or hearings in Congress.
In a move that likely previews their wider strategy ahead of next year’s presidential election, Republicans used the plan to try to sow discord among Democrats, painting their rivals as shifting to socialism and embracing extreme policies.
McConnell wrote on Twitter that Americans would see which senators are against the deal and which “are so fully committed to radical left-wing ideology that they can’t even vote ‘no’ on self-inflicted economic ruin that would take a sledgehammer to America’s middle class.”
Asked before the vote whether he believes climate change is happening and if humans are contributing to it, McConnell said: “I do. The question is how do you address it.” He said the way to fight climate change was by encouraging private companies to innovate.
The non-binding Green New Deal resolution sought to speed a transition of the U.S. economy away from burning oil, gas and coal and emitting greenhouse gases from cars and industry blamed for climate change. Its name referenced Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal that used massive government-led investments to lift the economy.
Democratic Senator Edward Markey, who unveiled the plan with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, told reporters that McConnell and other Republicans “fail to understand … that the Green New Deal is not just a resolution, it is a revolution.”
TO FIGURE IN 2020 CAMPAIGN
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein was criticised by Green New Deal supporters after she was filmed last month telling children she opposed the resolution because it was too expensive. But she sided with the majority of Democratic senators in voting “present,” to show unity in the party.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat running for president in a crowded field, told reporters that most Republican lawmakers were treating climate change like a “political stunt.”
Gillibrand said most Republican lawmakers were lockstep in support of President Donald Trump’s policies of rolling back environmental regulations and withdrawing from the 2015 Paris international climate agreement and “have refused to put forward any real plan to address climate change in any meaningful way.”
Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican, has offered a response to climate change that proposes to engage innovation by doubling research funding in 10 technologies including advanced nuclear, batteries and capturing carbon for burial underground, a plan critics say does not act fast enough.
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper became the first 2020 Democratic candidate to oppose the plan, writing in the Washington Post that it would give the government too much power in investment decisions. To spur innovations needed to curb climate change, “government must not shun the private sector,” Hickenlooper said in the piece.
As scientists say climate change is causing billions of dollars worth of damage by making floods, storms and droughts more intense, debate is expected to amplify ahead of 2020.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters the Green New Deal was discussed with Trump at a party lunch on Tuesday. Graham said Trump told Republican senators: “Make sure you don’t kill it too much because I want to run against it.”
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney and Susan Thomas)