House Democrats are working behind the scenes to build a winning coalition on a major energy and global warming bill, but it is unclear if they will be successful.
The closed-door negotiations involve leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee and about a dozen of the panel's moderate and conservative Democrats who are concerned that the draft legislation circulated earlier this month pushes too fast to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Reps. Rick Boucher of Virginia and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania have the lead in the compromise talks with Chairman Henry Waxman of California. The moderates' group also includes Reps. Charles Melancon of Louisiana and Charles Gonzalez of Texas.
"This is going to be a direct conversation that [Waxman] and I have," Boucher said yesterday. "Undoubtedly, it'll span a number of days now. And at the end of the process, I hope I'll be able to support the bill. In its current form, I cannot."
Boucher declined to release his four-page list of recommendations, though he and Doyle provided some details. For instance, they have endorsed the electric utility industry's call to set aside 40 percent of the proposed cap-and-trade program's allowances for free distribution to regulated local distribution companies (LDCs) within the electricity sector.
On emission limits, they want emission targets lower than those proposed by President Obama (14 percent below 2005 levels by 2020) and Waxman (20 percent). Doyle did not give a specific figure, but an early draft of recommended changes obtained by E&E suggests beginning with a 6 percent cut by 2020.
The moderate and conservative Democrats also support a less aggressive 15 percent nationwide renewable electricity standard for 2025, as compared with the 25 percent target Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have set for the same date.
"It's recommendations to the chairman, and we expect over the weekend we'll be negotiating," Doyle said. "His staff and our staff will be working on it."
Doyle explained that the proposed changes could help build industry support for the bill, as well as among Democrats outside the committee. "I want to make the bill as good as we can make it," he said. "I don't have any firm lines in the sand. These are things I think are important. If we're able to get movement toward those areas, then we'll have a good bill."
Democrats who already have embraced the draft climate proposal said they welcomed the Boucher-led group's suite of recommended changes. "We're going to work very closely with him to resolve those issues," said Markey, the chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.
"At least on the Democratic side, people are looking for a way to get to yes," added Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).
Other liberal members of the Energy and Commerce Committee said they are willing to keep on supporting the climate legislation as the moderates press for their issues to be heard.
"Sure, you can devastate the bill, and I'd vote against it," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). "But I think the types of modifications that those folks sitting on the fence might be looking for might address a regional concern, a concern back home in their home state and home region.
"I think we'll have to talk about those things," Baldwin added. "This has to work for all America. Our districts don't all have the same resources. They don't have the same economies. We have to make this work."
Markup still on for next week
Markey yesterday insisted that the subcommittee markup is still on for next week, though he would not specify when it would begin, or even when he and Waxman would release a new draft bill. Under House committee rules, the leaders must provide 36 hours notice for a markup.
But it is clear that nobody is waiting for the official notice.
Republicans have kept their legislative counsel busy writing up amendments. And environmental and industry lobbyists yesterday scurried in and out of the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing room, adjoining committee offices and Boucher's personal office -- some with draft legislative text in hand.
Baldwin said she does not expect the subcommittee to tackle all of the titles in the legislation, but she still sees some of the most vigorous debate coming in the week ahead. "That's where the members have been studying up now for several years in preparation for this moment," she said. "I'm hoping we can have a debate at pretty high levels on the various provisions. I'd like a lot of that work to be initiated next week."
Inslee said he wants to see resolution on the emission credit issue during the subcommittee debate. "I'd like to get to an allocation vote next week," he said. "I'd like to find out where the votes are, and let's find out if we can tee it up and find that consensus. And if we don't reach it next week, there's the following week. We want to get this done."
But Inslee also said he expects amendment debates as the legislation goes from subcommittee to the full committee later in May. "It would not shock me if there's an amalgam of both," he said.
A renegade Republican?
Democrats working on the climate bill likely have only one Republican vote they may be able to count on.
"Truly, I am in the undecided category," said Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California. "I'd love to see us do all we can on renewables. I'd love to see us move forward on energy independence."
Bono Mack said she is concerned about the economic implications of the bill.
"I anticipate next week or whenever it happens I'll be a fighter to try and improve the bill," she said. "I am not set. I promise you I'm not set yet on whether I'm going to support it, or vote against it. And if I knew, I'd tell you."
Nearly all of the other House Republicans have taken aim at Democrats for pushing a climate and energy bill during the global economic crisis. Some see political gains.
"I think a lot of people at the NRCC hope it passes by just one vote," said Energy and Environment Subcommittee ranking member Fred Upton (R-Mich.), referring to the National Republican Congressional Committee. "It's a pretty heavy burden."
Upton said he expects Democratic turmoil in the coming weeks as sponsors recognize they cannot get the measure through the Energy and Commerce Committee to the full House and Senate.
"I really don't think they know yet where they are," Upton said. "It's clear they don't have the votes. The other thing was that the game plan was always that they wanted a strong bipartisan vote to push the Senate over the hump. But, if somehow they eke out the votes, they buy off with the allocations, whatever is done, they're not going to have a big vote to push the Senate over the edge. It's not going to happen."
House Democrats countered yesterday that they will indeed slog it out and pass the climate and energy bill.
"Pessimism is unhealthy," Inslee said. "I want my friend, Fred, to have a little more optimism, because there's cause for it."
Markey predicted passage, even if it comes with a one-vote margin. "I think these hearings are giving people more optimism," he said, "about our ability to find resolution to the issues."
Click here to read the early draft of recommended changes by moderate and conservative Democrats.