Thirty-three members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee gained a new title last night: global warming ambassadors.
In voting to adopt comprehensive legislation to cap U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the 32 Democrats and one Republican now embark on the difficult task of convincing their fellow House colleagues to support sweeping new environmental legislation in tight economic times.
"We really need to be emissaries to the caucus, talking to them about how we were able to find some good common ground, and how it's a good bill," said Rep. Diane DeGette, a Democrat from Denver who said she would focus in the coming months on her fellow Western and urban lawmakers.
Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat who represents Pittsburgh, has already gotten started, albeit in a very subtle way. He brought up the climate bill over breakfast yesterday with a wavering lawmaker from the South.
"It was more of a conversational thing," said Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.). "He was explaining how he'd become a convert. I'll just leave it at that. He did not try to twist my arm or influence my vote in any way."
As DeGette, Doyle and many other Democrats are already seeing, their job will not be easy. It is going to take more than just one breakfast conversation to explain the intricacies of a 946-page climate bill that was long ago branded by Republicans as an "energy tax."
"As this bill is now out there in the public domain, I think people will understand the extraordinary cost that this will impose to business and working families," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said yesterday. "And at the end of the day, that will be what will kill this bill."
Taylor, an 11-term congressman from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is not ready to buy into the climate bill.
"I think of the whole cap-and-trade idea as a Ponzi scheme," Taylor said. "I don't like the idea that one factory is cleaner than it has to be so that another a factory is dirtier than it should be, because historically that factory that's dirtier than it should be ends up in the South. ... If the vote was today, I'd vote 'no.'"
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) has his own problems with global warming legislation, especially when it comes to speculation in the carbon market. Several members of the Energy and Commerce Committee won some concessions on this very issue, but DeFazio said he probably will not be swayed.
"I don't care what restrictions we put on it, we do not want to enable Wall Street hedge funds, derivative traders and others to create another bubble and take control of our carbon markets," DeFazio said. "Cap? Fine. Regulate? Great. Trade? No."
Then there is House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who again yesterday said he has between 40 and 45 Democrats who will oppose the climate bill if serious concessions are not made on several intertwining issues. Peterson's list starts with U.S. EPA's draft plan to consider greenhouse gas emissions from "indirect" land-use changes spurred by biofuels production. He also wants a larger share of agricultural offsets factored into the bill, as well as more free allowance allocations to rural electric utilities.
"If they don't want to change it, then they'll have to find the votes some other place," Peterson said. "In my district, a 'no' vote would be a good vote."
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), a member of the Agriculture Committee and the Blue Dogs, a group of moderate and conservative Democrats, said defections among committee members and Blue Dogs would make for "rough sledding" on the floor for the climate bill given the widespread GOP opposition.
"I don't think [Peterson] is bluffing," Pomeroy said. "He has got the support he says he has."
A plan in progress
Democratic committee leaders say they will map out their plans for getting the bill ready for the floor once Congress returns from the weeklong Memorial Day recess. Eight other committees will have jurisdiction over pieces of the bill, but only a few have signaled serious interest in holding their own markup: Ways and Means, Agriculture, Science, and Natural Resources.
Speaking to reporters last night after the final passage vote, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said he would do what it takes to get the measure across the finish line.
"We're just savoring the victory and right now I love every provision in that bill," Waxman said. "But I don't love it so much that I wouldn't want to hear what other people have to say about it, and learn more and examine other alternatives that might do better."
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), the lead farm state lawmaker on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said yesterday that he knows what he must do to get the bill to President Obama's desk: He will try to disentangle the EPA biofuels regulations from the House climate legislation.
"Many people tend to confuse the concerns created by both mechanisms," said Braley, a two-term congressman who often flies back to the Midwest with Peterson.
"I'm trying to be that broker in between who have legitimate concerns about the indirect land-use implications, especially for my state, as a huge proponent of biofuels, at the same time, recognizing the obligation to the future of this country to move forward with this climate and energy bill," Braley added.
Other Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats said they will do what they can as well.
"I'm still learning the legislation," said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). "There's so much to comprehend. And the manager's amendment just dropped this week. There's a lot of details in there we don't fully understand.
"Hopefully," Butterfield added, "I can be a representative of leadership and try to persuade members to vote for it. That's my duty as a whip."
"I've done my job as a member of the committee," said Doyle. "I'm glad to answer any questions members have about what the Energy and Commerce Committee has done. Beyond that, I'm going to be a spectator like everyone else, and we'll see what happens after all the committees do their work and what the bill looks like and we'll go from there."
House Democratic leaders acknowledge that it won't be easy to craft successful legislation without upsetting the balance that helped to see the bill through the Energy and Commerce Committee.
"You need the votes of the entire caucus," said House Democratic Caucus Committee Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.). "But I think the willingness for everyone to work and understand the fragility of this is helpful, and I think we'll get a bill."
Larson said the job really belongs in the hands of the speaker of the House. "We've got to bring everybody together, and there's nobody better than that than Nancy Pelosi," he said.
Asked how the House speaker planned to navigate the bill, spokesman Nadeam Elshami replied, "Carefully."
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a close Pelosi ally and the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said there was nothing particularly different about the upcoming push to 218.
"That's the process we go through on every bill," Miller said. "The speaker insists you constantly widen the circle and enlarge it so you take in these interests, so when the bill is finished, people will speak up, organizations will speak up."
Democrats will be making their case while facing a tough crowd with the Republicans. Only Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California supported the bill in committee, and there are but a handful of GOP lawmakers who are even in the ballpark of supporting the bill.
Instead, many Republicans see the climate bill as their meal ticket back to the majority.
"I actually think it may have been a mistake for the Energy and Commerce Committee to mark this bill up and then send its members home because a lot of them have taken votes that are not going to be easy votes to explain in their districts," said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the former House GOP whip who is running for a Senate seat in 2010. "And their experience will work against getting people who aren't on the committee to want to go down the same path."
Waxman's lieutenant in the climate negotiations, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), countered yesterday that Democrats saw a similar line of attack in 2007 as they prepared to pass the last major energy bill. "People thought was too far and too advanced," he said. "Congress is a stimulus response institution. And nothing is more stimulating that millions of Americans who want a change with energy. We're seeing the beginning of it here."
Senior reporter Ben Geman contributed.