Let the vote-counting begin.
Minutes into his first hearing yesterday as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) boldly pledged to move a comprehensive climate change bill through the panel by Memorial Day. But the road to the House floor isn't that simple.
Democrats hold a 36-23 edge on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That is a big margin for Waxman to work with as he takes the lead in writing a cap-and-trade climate bill over the next four months. But lawmakers from both parties warn that there are no guarantees Waxman will be able to satisfy any Republicans, let alone some of his own Democrats who represent districts with heavy industrial bases.
"That's the question: Are you going to insert the word 'Ohio?' Are you going to insert the word 'Pennsylvania?'" asked Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the GOP's former top House vote counter. "What are you going to put in this that allows people in states that are particularly dependent on coal, either as a producer or user of coal, to move forward?"
Waxman, an 18-term congressman, did not give specifics on the climate bill he has in mind during yesterday's hearing on global warming, the first since he took over late last year as the new chairman.
But Waxman did explain that he has a wider range of recommendations available to pull from, including previous versions of cap-and-trade legislation introduced by other Democrats and the U.S. Climate Action Partnership blueprint released yesterday that calls for a reduction of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases to 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2050.
"A consensus is developing that our nation needs climate legislation," Waxman said. "Our job is to transform this consensus into effective legislation. The legislation must be based on the science and meet the very serious threats we face."
As he moves forward, Waxman can claim support from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In a prepared statement, Pelosi called Waxman's Memorial Day schedule an "aggressive timetable for action to reduce global warming and our dependence on foreign oil. I share his sense of urgency and his belief that we cannot afford another year of delay."
Across Capitol Hill, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) issued her own statement saying she was "very pleased" with Waxman's plans. She pointed out that while she pushed a cap-and-trade bill through her committee in December 2007, the House took no action on global warming legislation over the last two years.
Looking ahead, Boxer promised to release "a set of principles for my new legislation in the coming weeks." And she said that Waxman's schedule, coupled with the U.S. CAP announcement, suggest "the writing is on the wall that legislation to combat global warming is coming soon."
House and Senate Democratic leaders say they will be consulting closely with the Obama administration on its preferences for global warming legislation, a strategy repeated during confirmation hearings this week by EPA Administrator designee Lisa Jackson.
The Obama administration will likely release a series of legislative principles out of the Obama White House, as opposed to a detailed bill, according to an aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the newly created House Energy and Environment Subcommittee with primary jurisdiction on a global warming bill.
"Frankly, I think what we're going to get from this administration is what we got from the tail end of the Clinton administration and not the start of the Clinton administration," the Markey staffer said. "One of the great mistakes of the health care debate is they tried to write a 300-page bill. Congress doesn't take dictation very well."
'The fossil fuel Democrats'
Given the size of the Democratic majorities, Blunt predicted cap-and-trade advocates would find success when it comes to moving climate legislation, though it may mean making some concessions.
"If Barack Obama is pushing for it, and Nancy Pelosi is pushing for it, and Barbara Boxer is pushing for it and Henry Waxman is pushing for it, it probably happens," Blunt said. "But that doesn't mean it happens in the right way, or the right time frame."
Blunt also would not rule out Republicans voting in support of a Waxman-led climate bill. "It's too early to tell," he said.
Several Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee said they had already made up their mind they would be opposed to a cap-and-trade bill, including Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois.
Shimkus, a seven-term congressman from southern Illinois' coal country, sounded off during yesterday's hearing against the economic implications of a new carbon cap in the United States. And he predicted political fallout for Democrats from similar industry-heavy districts if they back Waxman's legislation.
"I'm going to hold the fossil fuel Democrats accountable," Shimkus said. "You better be prepared to defend your vote as global climate change legislation will destroy the fossil fuel industry."
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said he did not buy the argument offered by U.S. CAP members that it would cost more to stave off the effects of climate change in future years if lawmakers do not move now to curb emissions with a cap-and-trade bill.
"You hear that in a lot of issues: A stitch in time saves nine," Gingrey said. "But right now, I don't believe we have a stitch left when we get through trying to save the economy and restore some of these 2.5 million jobs lost last year."
Warnings from Shimkus and Gingrey underscore the work Waxman has to do to win over Republicans. Meantime, some of the so-called fossil fuel Democrats who serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee said they planned to be active participants in the drafting of climate legislation.
"I want to be able to support a bill," said Rep. Baron Hill, a five-term lawmaker from southeastern Indiana. "But if coal is not addressed, then I cannot support a bill. It's just as plain and simple as that."
Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.) said Waxman's Memorial Day target would require giving lawmakers like him time to study the climate bill. "Mr. Waxman is a very experienced legislator, and I think he realizes he can't just dump this on us one day and move it forward," said Melancon, a three-term congressman representing the state's southeastern swampland.
Asked if the committee's Democrats would be a "rubber stamp" on whatever legislation Waxman produces, Melancon replied, "That'd be a firm no. But I have committed to be open minded and try to resolve issues rather than just take an opposing position."
"I think the work starts today," added Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.)
DeGette, the Democrats' chief House deputy whip, also predicted GOP support for the legislation, though she would not name any names. "I'd have to take a survey," she said.
Off Capitol Hill, environmental groups and companies involved in U.S. CAP welcomed Waxman's decision to spell out a four-month game plan.
"There's a lot of work to be done," said Francis Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But you'll never know how long it takes if you don't get started."
Jeff Sterba, president and CEO of PNM Resources Inc., a New Mexico-based electric utility company, said he wanted to see Congress write and vote on climate legislation this year. "They can move quickly if they want to," he said.