CLIMATE:

House markup plans uncertain as Dems lack votes

Prospects of a House subcommittee markup next week on a major energy and global warming bill appear dim as the panel's Democratic leaders head into the weekend without a clear signal that they have enough votes to move the legislation.

"I think it's a real open question, don't you?" Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) told reporters yesterday when asked about Democrats' plans to mark up a bill in the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

Democrats have been in closed-door talks all week on a draft bill that establishes a cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gases and also promote development of renewable energy production. But they have said little so far that would indicate they are making any progress in reaching a majority in their 36-member subcommittee.

"This will just take as long as it takes," Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a lead negotiator for the House moderates, said in an interview yesterday.

Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the committee's Democratic leaders, have pledged to finish their work on the legislation before the Memorial Day recess. Originally, Markey planned to hold a subcommittee markup this week, but he postponed that schedule to continue negotiations in search of the necessary votes.

Markey spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said today that the subcommittee still has plans to begin the markup next week, though he acknowledged that there has been no official notice of a business meeting. "Productive discussions continue," he said.

Across Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today underscored the difficulties ahead on the issue. Asked at a National Journal Group breakfast what issue was his biggest concern between now and the 2010 elections, he answered: "Global warming. ... Health care is easier than this global warming stuff."

Back in the House, about a dozen moderate Democrats are still questioning the size and scope of a 648-page draft of the Waxman-Markey legislation. Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) told reporters earlier this week that he wanted Democratic committee leaders to schedule another hearing on the bill once they fill in a blank section from the draft that explains how to distribute emission credits among industries.

Matheson said he is doubtful Democratic leaders can finish the legislation this month. "We've heard about Memorial Day," he said. "I've always thought that was rather aggressive. This is a complicated bill. I think what's going on now sort of validates that."

Rep. Charles Gonzales (D-Texas), another swing-vote lawmaker on the subcommittee, credited Waxman and Markey for not pressing forward on a subcommittee vote before the time is right.

"I think the chairman just has to work on something that has a chance of passing," Gonzales said. "I don't think you can afford a false start. You have to have some measure of success here, and I think a lot of us are willing to move in that direction, recognizing the need of the legislation. But there has to be some movement."

Another delay would not upset the Environmental Defense Fund. "It's more important to have a very strong, acceptable agreement," said Tony Kreindler, the group's spokesman.

Nearly all Republicans on the panel also outright oppose the cap-and-trade approach for dealing with climate change.

"There's going to be hundreds of amendments," Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the subcommittee's top Republican, said earlier this week. "This is going to be a long process."