The annual budget debate is guided by an arcane process in which a nonbinding congressional resolution sets the stage for subsequent measures affecting taxes, benefit programs, and the annual appropriations bills.
By week's end, the Senate approved the Democratic blueprint which promises a balanced budget in five years. The $2.9 trillion plan was approved on a 52-47 vote along party lines, but only after the democrats agreed to extend popular tax cuts set to expire at the end of the decade.
A similar measure is expected to be debated in the House of Representatives next week. But late this week, a separate appropriation of nearly $4 billion in emergency disaster assistance and an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Program was approved by the House.
All in all, it was a busy week on Capitol Hill, but that didn't prevent a former vice president from stopping by to testify on what he calls "An Inconvenient Truth."
Former vice president Al Gore returned to Capitol Hill this week, urging Congress to respond to what he called the "true planetary emergency" of global warming.
Al Gore, Global Warming Spokesperson: "What we're facing now is a crisis that is by far the most serious we've ever faced. And the way were going to solve it is by asking you, on both sides of the aisle, to do what you know some people have begun to fear that we don't have the capacity to do anymore. I know they're wrong."
Gore, who 20 years ago held the first hearing in Congress on global warming, advised lawmakers to put an immediate moratorium on the construction of coal burning power plants and move to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent by 2050. The former congressman and senator from Tennessee has made global warming his signature issue. And thanks to his Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore now is recognized internationally as the leading spokesman on the problem.
Al Gore, Global Warming Spokesperson: "If the crib is on fire you don't speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action! The planet has a fever!"
Gore received a warm reception from congressional democrats, but several Republicans sharply criticized Gore's recommendations.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas: "...explains historically a rise in CO2 concentrations did not, proceed a rise in temperatures, but actually lagged temperatures, by 200 to a 1,000 years. Yes lagged! We know that CO2 levels have historically and repeatedly have far exceeded the levels of concentration that we're now experiencing."
Al Gore, Global Warming Spokesperson: "The fact that CO2 traps more heat in the lower part of the atmosphere is really beyond dispute."
There also were questions regarding Gore's ability to "walk the walk" after recent reports that the former vice president's 20-room home and pool house in Nashville, devours 20-times the energy of the average American home. But that line of questioning by Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma received a harsh reprimand from one of the new power brokers in the Senate.
Sen. James Inhofe, R - Oklahoma: "Senator Gore…"
Al Gore, Global Warming Spokesperson: "If I could respond..."
Sen. James Inhofe, R - Oklahoma: "Well, you can't... Sen. Barbara Boxer, D - California: "You asked the senator an important question. "He's answering it. Give him a minute…"
Sen. James Inhofe, R – Oklahoma: "All right, if you
would stop the clock at this time…"
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D – California: "No, I'm not going to stop the clock. He has a minute to answer. How can you ask the question and not give the man a minute to answer?"
Sen. James Inhofe, R – Oklahoma: "At the end…"
Sen. Barbara Boxer, R – California: "No that isn't the rule of… You're not making the rules. You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences."
The rhetoric is likely to remain heated this spring, since Congress is scheduled to consider nearly a dozen bills calling for reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.