CLIMATE:

Key House Dems warn against fast-track budget maneuver

Four powerful House Democrats warned President Obama today against using a fast-track budget process for climate legislation.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman of California and Reps. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, John Dingell of Michigan and Rick Boucher of Virginia insist in a letter that Obama's climate agenda has a better chance of success if it is done through regular order.

"Energy and environment issues have a unique regional component," the lawmakers wrote. "Solutions that make sense in Southern California can impose large costs in Southwest Virginia. We can overcome these geographic differences, but using the budget reconciliation process, which curtails Senate filibuster rights, could arouse regional distrust and make reaching agreement harder."

House and Senate budget committees this week approved spending blueprints for the upcoming fiscal year without a specific mention of the reconciliation process for a climate bill. But key Democratic leaders and some White House officials, including Obama's budget chief, Peter Orszag, have said they would prefer to keep the reconciliation option open should the cap-and-trade bill falter due to the Senate's 60-vote threshold for defeating a filibuster.

For now, Waxman and his three Democratic colleagues suggested to Obama that a major climate bill could win passage if the budget threat is taken off the table.

"Hearings, markups, and regular order are the best way to forge the compromises that will unite members from all parts of the country," the lawmakers said. "As we work to achieve this consensus, we hope Republican members of our committee and of the full House will join the process too, so that truly bipartisan answers can be developed."

The Democratic lawmakers' letter reflects comments Obama made earlier this week about global warming legislation during his second prime-time news conference since the inauguration.

"Our point in the budget is let's get started now," Obama told reporters. "We can't wait. And my expectation is that the energy committees, or other relevant committees, in both the House and the Senate, are going to be moving forward a strong energy package. It'll be authorized. We'll get it done. And I will sign it."

Obama on Wednesday night also suggested he was open to compromise on some of the key details of his climate proposal, especially as they relate to lawmakers who represent states and districts that are heavily dependent on coal and manufacturing industries.

"The way it's structured, it has to take into account regional differences, it has to protect consumers from huge spikes in electricity prices," Obama said. "So there are a lot of technical issues that are going to have to be sorted through."

Waxman and Markey, the chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, are planning to release a discussion draft of their climate bill next week, with legislative hearings scheduled for late April after lawmakers return from a two-week recess. Markey's subcommittee is expected to mark up the legislation in early May, with votes in Waxman's full committee to follow before the Memorial Day break at the end of that month.

Boucher, the former chairman of Markey's subcommittee, said in an interview yesterday that he expects the climate bill to win support from some Republicans and industry. "There are some policy decisions we still have to make, but we are on track to get it done by Memorial Day," he said.

Dingell, the longest-serving House member in U.S. history, is also the former chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Click here to read the Democrats' letter.

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