| No Breakthrough for House Democrats on Climate BillBy |
By Lisa Lerer and Carol E. Lee
May 5, 2009
House Democrats warned Tuesday of deadlock on
controversial climate change legislation, even as
President Barack Obama pushed Energy and Commerce
committee members to negotiate a compromise and pass a bill.
“There are very serious discussions and not a
consensus,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in a
meeting with reporters. “Whether it’s a gridlock or not,
I don’t know.”
Negotiations over a bill establishing a cap on
greenhouse gas emissions have been stalled by about a
dozen Democrats who want to cushion regional interests
like steel factories, oil refiners, and coal plants from
major price increases.
Obama pushed the committee to work out a compromise in
an hour-long White House meeting on Tuesday.
“He made it very clear that passing this measure is one
of his key priorities for this year,” said Rep. Rick
Boucher, (D-Va.), who represents Virginia coal country
and has been acting as a key negotiator for Democrats
concerned about the costs of the bill.
“He was saying, ‘Work hard, come to an agreement among
yourselves and then when that is achieved we’ll have a
bill that actually can become law.’”
Obama, however, did not explicitly back the legislation
proposed by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman
Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) as the only
way to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas
emissions, the members said.
“He wants us to try to work out our bill and he’s giving
us a lot of latitude to do that,” said Waxman. “He wants
us to move. He wants legislation."
Passing global warming legislation is one of the
administration’s top priorities, along with reforming
health care and regulating the financial sector. Last
week, senior advisor David Axelrod and energy czar Carol
Browner met with key Democrats on the Hill. They’re
particularly eager to get legislation passed before the
Copenhagen international climate talks in December.
But wading into the climate debate also carries
political risks. If President Obama throws his support
behind Waxman-Markey proposal and it fails, it could
undermine his long-term global warming agenda.
During the meeting, Obama and Democratic lawmakers
reached an agreement on a proposed “cash-for-clunkers”
legislation, which would give drivers cash vouchers for
turning in old vehicles and replacing them with a more
fuel-efficient car or truck.
That proposal, said House Democratic aides, could win
the support of Rep. John Dingell, (D-Mich.) and other
lawmakers from auto-making states for the broader
climate change bill.
Markey heralded the agreement as “a signal that our
committee is going to work through every one of these
very difficult issues in a way that bridges the regional
Dissenting Democrats have suggested a long list of other
changes to the bill.
Rust Belt state Democrats want protections to keep
manufacturing jobs and factories at home, particularly
for the most energy-intensive industries like paper,
steel, and aluminum. Southern Democrats, who argue that
their region is “solar and wind-poor,” want to minimize
the requirements for renewable energy production and
give credits for a wider range of fuels, including
nuclear and hydropower. And Oil Patch Democrats want
help for oil refineries dealing with new regulations.
If the bill can get through the subcommittee—which is
likely to be the toughest battle ground—aides say it’s
likely to pass the full committee and the entire House.
“We’re also reflective of the country, perhaps more so
than any other committee in the House, and if we can
achieve a broad consensus internally, then the bill that
we report can pass the House with a large majority, and
it points a way forward to the Senate,” Boucher told
Significant support from Rust Belt, Southern, and
moderate Democrats could help pave the way in the
Senate, where climate change legislation will face a
tough fight to win the 60 votes needed to overcome a
Waxman said the committee is on track to move the bill
by Memorial Day recess and have legislation on the
president's desk by the end of the year.
Republicans, who’ve dubbed the proposal “cap and tax,”
say it would slam already strapped consumers and
businesses by increasing energy prices. They want to
expand domestic energy resources, including nuclear, oil
and natural gas.
On Tuesday, they held an Energy Summit to publicize
their concerns with the bill.
"The hardest hit by the national energy tax will be the
poor," said Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the third-ranking
Republican in the House.
"We don't need a new national energy tax," said
Republican Leader John Boehner during his opening
remarks at the GOP's mock hearing on Tuesday.
Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Penn), Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii),
and a bipartisan group of five other members also
introduced an alternative to the Waxman-Markey proposal
on Tuesday that would expand domestic energy exploration
including into currently off-limits offshore areas.