Earlier this week, we spoke to Senator James Inhofe from the Senate floor, where he led the opposition in debate on the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill. He seemed confident that the bill would not pass in the Senate, and told us that the overwhelming vote to open debate had nothing to do with support for the bill, but the opportunity to argue against massive regulation of energy production in the US. Inhofe apparently had it more right than he knew, as it appears that the debate will end much more quickly than anyone guessed — and that the bill is dead for this session (via Michelle):

High-profile global warming legislation is expected Friday to be shelved for the year.

Both parties had said they welcomed a wide-ranging debate on the measure (S3036), but it never materialized, in part because the Senate’s ongoing clash over judicial nominations ate up precious floor time and drained the patience of senators.

After a week of partisan squabbling and parliamentary maneuvering, the chamber will vote Friday morning on a motion to invoke cloture and limit debate on a substitute amendment by Barbara Boxer , D-Calif., chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. If, as expected, the motion does not get the required 60 votes, the bill is unlikely to come up on the floor again this Congress.

“We really didn’t expect to have such a truncated debate,” said Boxer. “We are working colleague to colleague to see how many votes we have to stop the filibuster.”

Supporters of the bill had hoped the Senate would begin to lay the political groundwork for action under the next presidential administration. But the unrelated fight over judges halted floor discussion on the legislation only two days after it began.

Harry Reid says he will schedule a return of the bill to the floor if they lose the cloture vote this morning, but his whip, Dick Durbin, rejected that idea. As it turns out, the Democrats from both coal-producing and industrial states want this off the table before the election:

Although parliamentary maneuvers could still extend the debate into next week, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) faced the prospect of failure in a bid to end debate on amendments to the climate bill this morning. In that event, he was expected to seek withdrawal of the entire measure, to the relief of some Democrats from coal-producing or heavy industrial states. …

Some Democrats were worried yesterday that the GOP might try to block withdrawal of the legislation to prolong a debate that many Democrats think no longer works to their political benefit. Republicans have pounced on the high price of gasoline and have stressed that the climate legislation, by introducing a price on carbon dioxide emissions, would further raise the price of gas along with that of all other fossil fuels.

Democrats have big problems in states that rely on coal for jobs and cheaper energy for heavy industry. Lieberman-Warner will drive those industrial jobs out of the country, and coal mining will slow or cease as well. With Barack Obama already facing an uphill fight in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and so on, they can ill afford to have the party associated with efforts to push the Rust Belt and the Midwest into a painful, years-long recession.

Republicans might think to keep the bill alive for at least a few more days, just to drive home that connection with voters in this region. Democrats, led by the coastal Left such as Barbara Boxer, see no problem in kneecapping major American industries in order to adopt a system that has already failed in Europe. Obama himself would have no problem expanding the federal government to all but nationalize the energy industry. Maxine Waters, another coastal Left politician, has explicitly said she wants to “socialize” the energy industry.

Of course, by keeping it alive, the GOP risks its passage. Bush will veto it, but it would provide a certain level of legitimacy to the notion of Lieberman-Warner for the next session of Congress to approve it. Maybe it’s better to have it die at the hands of the Democrats instead.