Sen. Barbara Boxer should have little problem this year moving a cap-and-trade bill through the Environment and Public Works Committee, but it is going to take a concerted effort from other senior Democratic leaders for the measure to make it all the way to the White House.
The California Democrat vowed yesterday to pass a bill out of her committee by December that would be "straightforward, that doesn't have so much weight that it sinks." Boxer's emphasis on a leaner global warming bill acknowledges the hard lessons learned from last June's Senate floor debate, which featured an eight-hour reading of the measure and ended abruptly when sponsors failed to win 60 votes on a procedural motion.
In the aftermath of that floor debate, several top Senate Democrats said they wanted a larger piece of the next climate bill, including Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingman (D-N.M.) and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) (E&E Daily, June 10, 2008).
And it is looking like that is exactly what will happen as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that he expected to see multiple panels engage this year on climate change legislation.
"All of those committees, especially my old committee, EPW, have an important role to play for the Senate to produce a sound cap-and-trade bill that meets the president's emission reductions objectives," Reid wrote in an e-mail to E&E Daily.
Reid did not offer any additional details on how the Senate climate process will unfold in 2009 except to say that he will consult with Boxer and the Obama administration. Across Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she will hold a global warming floor vote this year, the first ever for the House.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) last week hinted at a different strategy to head off potential jurisdictional or floor fights.
At a hearing featuring former Vice President Al Gore, Kerry said he is preparing a "working group" with Boxer, Bingaman and any other interested Democratic or Republican senators "so that we piece this thing together differently from the way we did last year and try to solve a lot of those problems of the transparency and patterns up front and early."
Asked yesterday about his plans, Kerry said he may have spoken a bit too soon. "Nothing's been formally announced about anything at this point," he said. "We're just quietly working and talking to each other, that's all. We're putting something together, but there's no formal announcement of anything yet. There will be at some appropriate time. But there just hasn't been yet."
Bingaman, who has cosponsored his own cap-and-trade legislation over the last several years, said he had not been briefed yet on any plans for a Democratic working group. "We're obviously interested in whatever develops in this area, we in the Energy Committee are," Bingaman said. "A lot of members have expressed to me their interest. We'll have some hearings on the general subject and different aspects, but I don't have any idea as to how the coordination will occur yet."
Asked specifically about Kerry's reference to a new working group, Bingaman replied that even that decision would come from a higher pay grade. "I think Senator Reid is the one to decide," he said.
Senators lining up for action
As she introduced her climate "principles" yesterday, Boxer acknowledged that moving a bill out of the EPW Committee, where Democrats have an 11-8 edge, is the easy part.
"We could get a bill out of the committee tomorrow," Boxer said. "I don't have a problem because you see who's on my committee and how they feel. I want to get a bill out of there that every member has a stake in. It will take a while. It could be weeks, not months, but it will be before the end of this year."
But other senators say they are interested in working on the next global warming bill, or at least seeing the debate evolve both within and beyond Boxer's committee.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who cosponsored cap-and-trade legislation in 2007 with Bingaman, said that he joined the Environment and Public Works Committee this year in order to push for a more moderate climate bill. "A key reason I joined the committee is because I want to have a stronger voice on global warming," Specter said. "I'm anxious to legislate in the field. I want to be sure what we propose is something which is attainable."
One of Specter's Republican cosponsors on that cap-and-trade bill is Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). She plans to push Bingaman to take a proactive role in the climate debate. "We're going to be involved," she said. "I have always maintained that the Energy Committee has a level of jurisdiction when it comes to climate change."
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) also lent her support to a broader review of global warming legislation. "I hope it will be done in tandem with Chairman Bingman and Chairman Baucus," said Lincoln, one of at least a dozen influential moderate Senate Democrats whose vote will be the difference between success or failure on a global warming bill. "I think there will be a lot of people that will have a role to play in this."
Boxer last summer said she would welcome work on climate legislation from outside her committee. Yesterday, Boxer said she plans to turn to Baucus for guidance on how to develop legislation that stands up to any possible challenges before the World Trade Organization. And Boxer said she would listen to the Banking Committee for its ideas about how to set up an oversight board for the regulation of a new greenhouse gas emissions trading market (Greenwire, Feb. 3).
Boxer also said she would welcome the reintroduction of a cap-and-trade bill from Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), a partnership that twice forced Senate floor votes on global warming during the Bush administration. "I think that's fine," she said. "What happens is when people work on their proposals is that our committee gets to see it, our committee gets to pick what's the best, so I encourage them to do that."
McCain is primed to play a key role in this year's climate debate through his new seat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. As for Lieberman, Senate Democratic leaders stripped the Connecticut independent of his EPW Committee assignment last fall because of his outspoken advocacy for McCain during last year's presidential campaign (E&E Daily, Nov. 19, 2008).
Lieberman yesterday shrugged off that move and said he was still working to promote his climate bill, which he expected to get a referral to Boxer's committee. "There'll be differences of opinion," Lieberman said. "We want to create a bipartisan ground here in favor of climate change and hopefully we'll build around it. These proposals always change as it goes on. The important thing is we want to get some ideas out there."
Despite the overtures from Specter, McCain and Murkowski, climate advocates likely will have only a few Republicans to work with, prompting EPW Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) yesterday to predict that Boxer would not be able to defeat a filibuster. "She can move it out of committee, but she can't get it off the floor, in my opinion," he said.
'It's long overdue,' Axelrod says
Proponents of climate legislation routinely say that they will be looking to the White House for guidance -- and so far they have received some important symbolic gestures of support, including prominent mentions in Obama's inaugural address and a pair of presidential memorandums last week on motor vehicle fuel efficiency.
Asked yesterday if Obama wants to sign climate cap-and-trade legislation in 2009, White House senior adviser David Axelrod replied, "He's spoken of this. It's something he supports. We're taking one step at a time here. But it's something he's committed to pursuing."
Axelrod also welcomed Democratic leaders' pledges for movement this year on cap-and-trade legislation. "We think that it's healthy that there's so much momentum in Congress to address this problem," he said. "It's long overdue."