House Democrats will not abandon plans to pass global warming and energy legislation this year despite concerns that similar proposals may fail to win the 60 votes needed for Senate approval, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today.
"I think we're moving on parallel tracks," the Maryland Democrat told reporters during his weekly briefing in the Capitol. "I don't want to imply that we're waiting for the Senate to act, because that would not be accurate."
He added, "We're moving ahead. We're trying to address this issue. It's a priority for the president. It's a priority for the speaker."
Questions about House Democrats' climate strategy come as the party searches for the winning formula to pass a sweeping bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee establishing a cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gases, as well as other requirements to expand U.S. production of renewable energy.
Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the panel's Democratic leaders, yesterday postponed a scheduled subcommittee markup until at least next week to give time for intra-party negotiations, as well as GOP demands for more hearings.
"They put it off because they're discussing with their own membership as to exactly what can garner the requisite number of votes," Hoyer said. "This is an obviously tough issue. I think there's general agreement, consensus, on what needs to be done. The issue of how it's to be done is obviously still a matter of substantial debate. So I do not want to say that we'll wait for the Senate to act."
But another House Democratic leader raised the prospect this week of delaying floor action because of the Senate's obvious difficulty in moving legislation.
"The first thing we need to do is see whether we can come together around a consensus position in the committees in the House, and that's what we're working on," Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who leads House Democrats' 2010 campaign operations, told The Hill newspaper in remarks published today. "And then, of course, if we were about to arrive at that, the question is whether you would take it to the floor, or do you wait to see if anything develops on the Senate side?"
"The chances of doing cap and trade in the Senate are much more difficult," Van Hollen added. "We recognize that."
Van Hollen's read on the Senate vote count mirrors comments from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois earlier this month. Durbin said Democrats do not have 60 votes on global warming legislation, an acknowledgment of opposition from both Republicans and more than a dozen of his own moderate and conservative Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has been meeting with Democratic lawmakers concerned about the climate bill, but it is unclear if he has made any progress. In an interview yesterday, Reid said his plan remains to wait for House action on climate and energy before scheduling any floor time on the issue in the Senate.
"I'm anxious to see what the House comes up with," Reid said. "I think we're going to follow them, and not do anything until they get theirs done."
Reid added that floor action should not preclude Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and other committee leaders from acting, too. "I think committee work should go forward," Reid said.
Barton, Upton pose another obstacle
House Republicans presented Democrats with yet another obstacle today in anticipation of the Energy and Commerce Committee markup.
Committee leaders delayed their plans for the subcommittee votes this week in part because of a Republican request for another set of hearings on the legislation.
That hearing is scheduled for Friday, but Reps. Joe Barton of Texas and Fred Upton of Michigan today said the upcoming hearing would only be useful if Democrats release specific legislative language by tomorrow on how they will divvy up emission allowances.
"If you are unable to provide us with specific emission allocation language tomorrow, then understandably the witnesses we want to testify will be unwilling to attend because they will be unable to adequately analyze the legislation prior to the hearing," Barton and Upton said in a letter to the Democrats.
But those Democrat-led talks on the emission allowances are likely to extend through the week before yielding any agreements.
"We're working to try to obtain the votes," Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a key swing vote on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an interview yesterday. "That's what the negotiation is all about. It is to enable those who have reservations, including me, to get to yes. I'm very hopeful, given the constructive nature of these discussions so far, that I'll be in a position to be supportive and that others will also."
Click here to read the letter.