By Susan Milligan
Senator Scott Brown, a freshman Republican from Massachusetts who has sided with Democrats on several key votes, said after meeting briefly with President Obama yesterday that he will not back any climate-change measure that includes a fee on carbon emissions, but he left open the possibility of supporting "a comprehensive energy plan.''
Brown was invited for a personal session with the president in the Oval Office, a gesture generally used when a commander in chief wants to thank someone or solicit legislative support. While Brown described the meeting as friendly, he voiced strong reservations about some of the key proposals on Capitol Hill to deal with climate change and energy independence.
"I basically told him I'm not in favor of, nor could I support, a national energy tax or cap-and-trade proposal,'' Brown told reporters at the Capitol after racing out of the White House to go back to the Senate for votes. "But I am very excited about working with him in a bipartisan manner to come up with a comprehensive energy plan to address a whole host of issues,'' Brown said.
In his first prime-time Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday night on the BP oil disaster, Obama escalated his quest for a broad energy plan. Obama won a commitment yesterday from BP officials to put $20 billion in an escrow account to compensate victims of the Gulf Coast spill, but he is also pressuring Congress to move ahead on a bill he says will reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.
Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and a chief author of a major climate change package, is lobbying his colleagues for support, but said he does not yet have the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected filibuster. Kerry has rejected critics' suggestions that his bill is an energy tax.
Obama talked generally to Brown about the climate issue, but did not specifically ask for his vote on the Kerry bill, Brown's office said.
The president also asked Brown to outline his general concerns. Brown said he responded by telling Obama he wants to focus on jobs.
Brown yesterday introduced legislation, written with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, that would require oil companies to have a peer-reviewed plan to respond to a significant leak. Companies are required now to have a leak prevention plan, but law does not mandate a backup strategy to stop a serious spill, according to Brown's and Feinstein's offices.
The bill -- which Brown said caught Obama's interest during their 15-minute meeting -- also would use existing Department of Energy funds to assemble a team of specialists from the private sector and National Academy of Sciences to stop the ongoing Gulf disaster.
Brown has been criticized by environmentalists, most recently for supporting a Senate resolution this month that sought to express disapproval of the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that greenhouse gas emissions are dangerous to people and the environment.
The resolution failed, but Brown's vote for it is "not a good sign. That's exhibit A that he's in the pocket of Republican leadership,'' said David DiMartino, whose company, Blue Line Strategic Communications, represents environmental groups. But "we think he's gettable,'' DiMartino said, on some energy and environmental legislation.
Brown came to Washington amid suggestions that he would supply the crucial vote against overhauling the Democratic proposal to overhaul health care. Democrats feared that Brown would prevent them from summoning the 60 votes required to break GOP filibusters. But Democrats passed the health care bill under legislative maneuvers that precluded Brown's involvement.
Brown voted, along with three fellow GOP senators, to break a February filibuster on a Democrat-sponsored, $15 billion jobs bill. In April, Brown delivered a crucial vote to advance a bill extending unemployment benefits. Brown was the deciding vote on the Senate's version of revising financial regulations.
Brown has repeatedly has said he will not vote for an unemployment extension bill that adds to the deficit. Yesterday, he voted against a $140 billion bill to extend jobless benefits and provide aid to states. That measure is expected to come up again in a revised form later this week.