WASHINGTON - A key Republican senator negotiating with Democrats on a climate change bill said Friday it's "become impossible" to pass the legislation now because of disagreements over offshore drilling and immigration reform.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that Congress needs to move forward in a political climate that gives proponents the best chance for success.
"Regrettably, in my view, this has become impossible in the current environment," he said in a statement. "I believe there could be more than 60 votes for this bipartisan concept in the future. But there are not nearly 60 votes today and I do not see them materializing until we deal with the uncertainty of the immigration debate and the consequences of the oil spill."
Sixty votes are required in the Senate to overcome filibusters.
Last month, Graham threatened to withhold his support for the climate and energy legislation because he was angry that Democrats said they would take up a rewrite of immigration policy. That forced his partners, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to postpone the long-awaited unveiling of the legislation, which aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
To win over Republicans, the bill calls for expansion of offshore drilling, which some Democrats have said they now oppose because of the Gulf spill.
"Some believe the oil spill has enhanced the chances energy legislation will succeed. I do not share their view," Graham said. While he respects the positions of Democrats who don't want to see more offshore drilling, he said he still believes that it's needed for the country to become energy independent.
"When it comes to getting 60 votes for legislation that includes additional oil and gas drilling with revenue sharing, the climb has gotten steeper because of the oil spill," the senator said.
He said it makes sense to find out what happened in the Gulf spill, take steps to prevent future accidents and build a consensus for expanded offshore drilling.
Just two days ago, Graham told The Associated Press that the oil spill does not necessarily rule out passage of a comprehensive energy bill this year -- although he noted it's always difficult to round up 60 votes.
Neither Kerry nor Lieberman had an immediate comment on Graham's statement. But they aren't likely to agree that it's best to wait. Kerry told an environmental gathering Wednesday that this year is "perhaps our last, best chance to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation."
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters this week that the oil spill should be incentive to act on legislation. "We have to take care of this issue," he said.