Democratic leaders began House and Senate strategy sessions this week in advance of major energy and global warming legislation sought by President Obama, several senior lawmakers said today.
There have been face-to-face meetings with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman of California, House Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer of California and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry of Massachusetts.
"The parties I've been meeting with all believe cap and trade is the right way to go," Boxer told reporters.
"They all understand that there's regional issues that we have to deal with," she said. "So I think what we're learning is that because I had a trial run, I know which colleagues I need to sit down with. It's very helpful."
Boxer added, "So I think a strategy is developing to see how this bill comes together."
Conversations have also involved senior Democratic leadership. For example, House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall of West Virginia said in an interview that he has been in two meetings over the last week on energy and climate change led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
"I've been in the meetings as a representative of a coal-producing state, as opposed to the chairman on the Natural Resources Committee," Rahall said.
For now, Waxman and Markey are the only lawmakers to provide details on when they will release legislation that seeks to curb greenhouse gas emissions and take other steps to encourage use of renewables and boost energy efficiency. Markey said in an interview yesterday that a draft will be released before lawmakers break in early April for a two-week spring recess. Waxman plans a markup before the Memorial Day recess.
Boxer is trying to give herself wiggle room when it comes to her legislative strategy. In a 25-minute speech today, she listed climate change efforts in states and cities and by U.S. EPA. But she sidestepped questions about her plans for drafting or moving a bill.
"It hasn't been decided," Boxer said. "It's a very fluid strategy. I could decide tomorrow to mark up next week. It depends on a lot of other factors."
Boxer also repeated her call for Democrats to consider a fast-track budget move that could allow key pieces of a cap-and-trade bill to move through the budget reconciliation process. "I think it should remain on the table," she said, even while acknowledging that this move has been rebuked by Republicans and eight moderate Senate Democrats.
Boxer added that she wants the fiscal 2010 budget resolution to include language assuming new government revenue for a global warming bill.
"If we keep the revenues in the budget," she said, "it's a signal that we intend to do more, mainly a cap and trade."
The bicameral talks on climate advance at the same time a coalition of 16 moderate Senate Democrats also renew their efforts to craft key features of the energy bill.
"I pulled the group together last week ... to reconnect where people were," Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said today. "I think now we are starting to re-engage."
Democratic lawmakers of the "Gang of 16" represent the Midwest, Rust Belt and West. The group formed after last year's Senate climate debate out of concern a bill from Boxer and Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) had not taken their interests into account.
Stabenow said she personally backs Obama's calls for a cap-and-trade bill that limits emissions 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by midcentury. But she wants to work on the details.
"It has got to be done in a way that works, particularly for the Midwest, for the manufacturing states," she said.
The Gang of 16 also plans to focus on emission allowances and pushing away from Obama's call to auction of 100 percent of the credits. "It is more of a phasing in of some of the most costly parts," Stabenow said.
Boxer sidestepped several questions on the details of the climate bill she plans to write. Asked specifically about allowances, she repled, "I'm not going to tell you. That's not what this is about. When you're the chairman of the committee you really want to get a bill out that you think has the most support."
Reporters Ben Geman and Eric Bontrager contributed.