Three key House Democratic committee chairmen signaled yesterday that they too want to take a swing at the sweeping global warming package that Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is trying to pass out of committee this week.
Offering perhaps the biggest road block to a floor debate, Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told reporters that he plans to put President Obama's health care reform agenda ahead of Waxman's global warming bill. "We have to deal with health care first," Rangel said.
Asked for a time frame on the health care legislation, Rangel replied, "As long as it takes."
Rangel later conceded, "Maybe at some point we can do both at the same time. But health being first is a priority."
The New York Democrat also said he continues to consider a carbon tax to curb greenhouse gas emissions, rather than the cap-and-trade approach that Waxman has been busy marking up since Monday in H.R. 2454. Several senior members of Rangel's committee support an outright carbon tax, while others back a different method for distributing emission allowances compared with Waxman's bill.
"It's on the table," Rangel said of the carbon tax. "Of course it is. How can it not be on the table?"
Other House Democratic committee leaders are also itching to get at Waxman's climate legislation.
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and other senior Democrats on his panel have a long list of grievances with the Waxman climate bill, from winning more offsets for farmers to giving the Agriculture Department a greater role in its implementation.
Peterson said he is waiting for answers from the House parliamentarian before he decides how his committee will handle the Energy and Commerce Committee's legislation, and he would not rule out going beyond his panel's reach if necessary (see related story).
Also yesterday, Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said he wants to make his own contribution that promotes domestic energy production on the outer continental shelf and federal lands. House Democratic leaders have not requested the language, but Rahall said he would move anyway and try to include his proposal as part of Waxman's broader bill.
"Pre-emptively," Rahall said. "We know gas prices are inching back up. More than inching back up, as we speak. And it's what I think should be part of a responsible, comprehensive, pro-energy bill."
Efforts to expand the energy and climate bill into domestic production issues would no doubt spark a fight among Democrats and with environmental groups. Former President George W. Bush allowed executive bans on offshore drilling in federal waters to expire last summer, and congressional Democrats -- under intense political pressure at a time of record high gas prices -- reluctantly allowed largely overlapping bans to expire months later.
"That ought to be interesting," Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said of Rahall's plans.
Rahall said he had not scheduled a markup for his bill. And he also said he was just starting to review the Energy and Commerce Committee bill to determine what parts of it fall under his jurisdiction.
For his part, Waxman said he was not so concerned about other committees moving on the issue, even Rangel's plan to go first onto health care.
"You have to figure out the time to do both," Waxman said. "I think that's what we're doing with our committee, and that's what he'll have to do in his committee and other committees."
Waxman also did not seem bothered by Rangel's interest in a carbon tax.
"I'm not worried about it," Waxman said, adding that Democratic committee leaders would meet after the Memorial Day recess. "We're going to sit down and talk this all over. And then we'll see where we go from there. But I think we have a formidable coalition behind our legislation, and I think they will see the wisdom of some of our decisions. And then we're going to talk through where we have differences and then we'll resolve them."
Democratic leaders have sent signals they will press the energy and climate issue ahead. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that he is interested in getting the climate and energy bill ready for floor action in either late June or in July. And House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told E&E last week that he could find the 218 votes to pass the legislation on the floor.
To date, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said she wants to act in the House this year. Pelosi could force the legislation through the different committees by giving them time constraints and using the Rules Committee to combine the various sections.
"She has a number of devices at her disposal," said Boucher, who has played a key role in negotiations in the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Waxman yesterday told reporters he did not expect to get to the climate and energy bill on the floor next month, citing his own busy schedule on health care and food safety in the committee. "We've got too much to do," he said.
The House parliamentarian has referred Waxman's climate bill to nine committees in total: Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, Agriculture, Science, Transportation and Infrastructure, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Natural Resources, and Labor.
Several of the panels are not expected to take much interest in the issue beyond staff-level meetings to go over the bill.
"We won't hold it up," said Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), explaining that he would have to take a closer look at language on enforcement for the new carbon market. "Yes, there needs to be some regulation," Frank added. "It's not a serious problem. I've not looked at it yet. But I think it can be resolved very quickly."
Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he had not yet studied the issue. Oberstar's panel may be preoccupied with the federal highway bill this summer.
And Aaron Albright, a spokesman for House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), said, "We are largely going to waive jurisdiction."
House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said yesterday he plans to complete work on the Waxman-Markey legislation's adaptation provisions after the Memorial Day recess. Gordon's committee will mark up H.R. 2407, which would establish a National Climate Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on June 3.
"We've been working together," said Gordon, who is also a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "We've got a good relationship."
Reporters Allison Winter and Lauren Morello contributed.