HELPING THE CLIMATE, CUTTING THE DEFICIT…. All those folks who claim that deficit reduction is their top priority? Have I got a bill for them.

Senator John F. Kerry’s signature energy and climate change legislation would cut the deficit by $19 billion, according to a new estimate released today by the Congressional Budget Office.

The legislation has uncertain political prospects, but the estimate gives proponents another argument at a time when there are rising concerns about adding to the deficit.

“There is no more room for excuses — this must be our year to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation and begin to send a price signal on carbon,” Kerry said this afternoon in a statement with the legislation’s co-author, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. “Many of our colleagues have said they flatly oppose anything that adds a penny to the deficit, so we hope they look anew at this initiative which reduces it.”

To review, the American Power Act would overhaul a broken energy framework, combat global warming, make America more competitive globally, lower the budget deficit, create jobs in a burgeoning industry, and do all of this without significantly raising costs for consumers.

And Senate Republicans don’t even want to let the chamber vote on this.

It also brings to mind a fairly consistent trend in recent policy debates. Republicans like to pretend that deficit reduction is their (and their base’s) top priority — but have you noticed how often they reject ideas to actually help close the budget shortfall?

The Democratic health care reform proposal lowered the deficit … and Republicans opposed it.

The Democratic student-loan bill lowered the deficit … and Republicans opposed it.

The Democratic effort to let Bush tax cuts for the rich expire will lower the deficit … and Republicans oppose it.

The Democratic energy/climate bill would lower the deficit … and Republicans oppose it.

The Democratic effort to reduce bloated Pentagon spending would lower the deficit … and Republicans oppose it.

And if you press Republican leaders on how they’d prefer to lower the deficit, they can’t answer the question.

It’s almost as if Republicans say they care about deficit reduction, until they’re offered a chance to actually reduce the deficit. If I didn’t know better, I might think GOP officials don’t think a deficit-reduction measure “counts” unless it undermines struggling families in some way.

That couldn’t be, could it?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.