Opponents of climate action launched a surprise assault last Friday night. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) led an attempt to add an amendment to the budget bill that Congress should hold off on enacting cap-and-trade legislation until China and India take more action.

You’d expect Climate Security Act co-sponsors like Virginia’s John Warner, Minnesota’s Norm Coleman, Maine’s Susan Collins, and North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole to oppose the amendment.

But then another surprise — South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg, Florida’s Mel Martinez, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Kansas’ Pat Roberts, Oregon’s Gordon Smith, Maine’s Olympia Snowe, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, and New Hampshire’s John Sununu also voted against it. In all, 61 senators voted to kill Sen. DeMint’s amendment, with 12 Republicans joining nearly every present Democrat and independent (West Virginia’s Sen. Robert Byrd voted for it).

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) then led a counterattack.

Boxer’s amendment backing cap-and-trade in concept won support from 55 senators (absent were the three presidential candidates and Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker). The senators willing to oppose Sen. DeMint’s bad amendment but unwilling to support Sen. Boxer: Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Gregg and Sununu (R-NH), Murkowski (R-AK), and Pat Roberts (R-KS).

These votes indicate a significant swing in momentum this Congress. While it takes a simple majority to pass legislation, it will take 60 votes to overcome the expected filibuster for the Climate Security Act.

Keep in mind that when the less-ambitious McCain-Lieberman bill came before the Senate two years ago, just 38 Senators supported it. And ten years ago, the Senate unanimously (95-0) voted to support a motion by Sen. Byrd that suggested the U.S. should not act before China and India.

That Boxer’s amendment got 55 votes shows how far we’ve come in a short period of time — and shows how ridiculous it is to be putting any toe tags on the Climate Security Act.

The push to get 60 votes could make Friday’s skirmish look like a pillow fight. But some encouraging words come from … Myron Ebell?! Yes, that Myron Ebell, the longtime shill for Big Oil. He tells USA Today he’s worried about the Climate Security Act:

Still, opponents worry about increasing bipartisan support for the legislation.

"We’re taking it seriously," said Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which opposes the bill. "My view is that it takes several Congresses to get any controversial legislation enacted, and the only way you can stop it is by fighting it every step of the way. However far they (the bill’s supporters) get this year will be a benchmark for where they start next year."

From 0 votes to 38 votes to 60 votes for a strong Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (and hopefully floor amendments next month will make it even stronger). That certainly would be incredible momentum to hand to the next president.

I guess climate deniers, like stopped clocks, can still be right once in awhile.