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Nancy Pelosi (Associated Press/Photo by Gerald Herbert)

Fight to the finish

Congress | Democrats narrowly pass a landmark energy reform bill Friday, despite Republicans staunchly opposing it

WASHINGTON-After an intense all-day battle on Capitol Hill, House Democrats narrowly passed an ambitious climate-change bill late Friday, overcoming a huge hurdle on the way toward regulating greenhouse gas emission in the United States. The bill passed 219 to 212, with 44 Democrats opposing it and eight Republicans crossing party lines to support it.

The bill, which will now be taken up by the Senate, imposes unprecedented carbon dioxide limits and restricts overall greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, factories, and refineries. It will also downsize coal and other fossil fuels as energy sources and replace them with more renewable types of energy.

Democrat leaders continued to tweak and refine the hotly debated energy bill all day Friday, trying to squeeze out enough votes to push the legislation through the House. Republicans accused the Democrats of ramming the bill through Congress without even giving them an opportunity to see a final copy until late in the day. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., called the effort "a power grab that will leave you with empty pockets and no jobs."

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Minority Leader John Boehner used his last speech of the day Friday to read aloud much of the 300-page amendment that Democrats pushed into the bill at 3 a.m. that morning. Boehner's speech delayed the vote for more than an hour, as he utilized a House custom that allows party leaders to extend their own speaking time.

But in the end, Democrats had enough votes after party leaders assured several waffling members that some regional issues would be fixed later during conference committees with the Senate.

Both parties agreed that the legislation will create higher energy costs, but their analysis differed widely on how it would affect consumers.

Democrats say the bill will transition the United States off of foreign oil, create millions of jobs, and only cost households an average increase of $80 to $111 per year while reducing global warming emissions 83 percent by 2050.

"Today we are saying clean energy will be the American-made solution [to global warming]," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "This legislation will create jobs by the millions, save money by the billions, and unleash investment in clean energy by the trillions."

Republicans say the bill amounts to the largest tax increase in U.S. history and will cause the loss of more jobs in an already unstable economy.

Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on Bill Bennett's Morning in America radio show earlier Friday morning that the higher energy production costs will simply be passed along to the consumer: "So, if you pay a light bill, if you pay a gas bill, you're going to pay a higher tax. If you buy anything in this country made here that uses electricity to be manufactured, you will pay a higher tax."

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) initially estimated that the bill's cost to the taxpayer would be $1,600 per family of four. The CBO, however, released a later estimate that was only a fraction of the initial number, raising questions about the validity of the study. Another study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that number could even be $3,000, including the increased cost of electricity.

The White House said in a statement, "The bill contains provisions to protect consumers, keep costs low, help sensitive industries transition to a clean energy economy, and promote domestic emission reduction efforts."

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi warned that when the production costs get too expensive the energy companies would simply ship their production overseas, where pollution restrictions are much lower. This, he argued, would cause a loss of jobs in the United States, as well as an overall increase in worldwide greenhouse gases.

Taking the bill on her shoulders this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fulfilled her promise of passage in the House in the last day before Congress' Fourth of July recess. President Obama has said the bill is one of his top legislative priorities and helped Pelosi phone Democratic congressmen in last-minute efforts to round up votes.

Concessions were made to bring in senior fence-sitting Democrats so vulnerable congressmen from coal states and split districts would not have to vote for the bill. Last-minute concessions included strengthening trade provisions, adding more money to help farmers reduce greenhouse gases, and adjusting regulations of the new carbon market.

The bill now goes on to the Senate, where more heated debate is expected.

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