Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that Congress could meet President Obama's call for passing sweeping energy legislation this year -- including a climate cap-and-trade measure -- though it might take three bills to do it.
The Nevada Democrat outlined what he sees as a three-pronged strategy for meeting the goals Obama laid out in his speech to Congress last night and said the Senate could pass all the bills by the end of the year.
Obama last night pegged energy as one of the main pillars of his plan for economic recovery, urging Congress to pass legislation that would ramp up renewable energy production and impose a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the year.
Reid told reporters today that the Senate would likely move first on an energy bill that could contain a renewable portfolio standard, energy conservation measures and a number of other efficiency regulations. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and the panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are already working on the bill, Reid said, adding that it could arrive on the Senate floor before the mid-April recess.
"We all agree: Let's start with Bingaman's committee and come up with something dealing with renewable portfolio standards, some real good conservation measures in buildings and things of that nature," Reid said.
Reid said that after that bill, he envisioned Congress would move on a measure that would create "a highway to transmit electricity to where it's needed," echoing the words of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Top Obama administration officials and congressional Democrats have made overhauling the electric grid a key part of their energy agenda, repeatedly saying a "smart grid" is needed to move electricity generated by wind, sun and other renewable sources from one region to another.
Finally, Reid said the Senate would then take up a cap-and-trade bill, saying that it would be easier to move on such legislation after Congress had already laid the foundation for overhauling the energy economy through the two previous bills.
"It will make it so much easier to do that to get rid of the energy stuff -- so-called low-hanging fruit -- to get something done with transmission," Reid said. He added that Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) "will be able to move expeditiously to get that done."
"As far as getting you a definite time, I can't do that," Reid said. "Our goal is to get that done this year."
As Reid laid out his plans, top Democrats attempted to use the president's high public-approval numbers to pressure Republicans to get on board with his policy agenda.
"We're playing on the same team with the president. We know that his agenda is the agenda that will move America forward," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Our Republican colleagues tried to act like they're cheering for the quarterback and then nitpick his play-calling.
"President Obama and his agenda are one and the same," Schumer said. "You can't separate the man from his agenda."