Expect another fast-paced month of committee action on a sweeping global warming and energy bill ahead of possible floor debate in late June or early July, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today.
"I think the speaker and I will both be urging the committee chairs to consider these quickly," the Maryland Democrat said in an interview, referring to eight panels with jurisdiction on a bill approved last night by the Energy and Commerce Committee. "Frankly, they've been considering them for some time now. It's not like it's a great surprise."
For most committees, the work will be swift, Hoyer said. "Their level of concern," he said, "is not high."
But there are two committees that want a piece of the debate: Ways and Means and Agriculture. Hoyer said he would work with the chairmen of both panels and did not expect much of a problem.
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) wants significant concessions for farm-state lawmakers, and he threatens to bring between 40 and 45 House Democrats along to vote "no" on the bill if that does not happen.
"I don't know that I have 45 Democrats in my pocket and the speaker may or may not," Hoyer said, adding, "Mr. Peterson has concerns. We'll work with his concerns."
And House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), said Tuesday that he would focus next month on health care while putting global warming on the back burner. "Maybe at some point we can do both at the same time," Rangel said. "But health being first is a priority."
That new agenda marked a reversal from comments Rangel had made in March, when he said climate ranked ahead of health care (E&E Daily, March 27).
Hoyer downplayed the competition between health care and climate change.
"We're going to move forward with the bills when they move forward," he said. "That may be energy and it may be health care. The issue isn't so much which goes first."
Also today, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a top ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and head of the Democrats' House campaign operations, said he did not think Rangel would need to spend much time changing the bill, offered by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman of California and his top lieutenant, Ed Markey of Massachusetts.
"We'll be looking at what they did," said Van Hollen, who also serves on the Ways and Means Committee. "I don't expect any radical surgery on their bill in the Ways and Means Committee."
Hoyer said Democrats would try to get both health care and energy passed off the floor before the August recess, though he left himself some wiggle room for the climate bill. "It's not a timeline," he said. "It's not a deadline."
'Very good week' for energy policy
For her part, Pelosi reveled today in last night's Energy and Commerce Committee vote in favor of the energy bill.
"It's been a very good week for new energy policy," Pelosi told reporters, citing the 33-25 vote, as well as President Obama's plan to set stronger fuel economy regulations.
Pelosi, who will spend next week's recess in China to discuss global warming and energy as the head of a congressional delegation, called the House bill, H.R. 2454, "something transformational in how we address the climate change issue."
As for timing, the furthest Pelosi went today was to suggest that Democrats still hope to send President Obama a climate bill that he can sign into law before a major U.N. global warming conference this December in Denmark.
"We're hoping we're able to seal the deal by the time we go to Copenhagen, but we have to see what the possibilities are for common ground, learn from each other, as we go forward," Pelosi said.
Obama and his staff worked behind the scenes over the last few months with Waxman and Markey to prod the climate bill out of the committee. The president invited all 36 of the committee Democrats to the White House earlier this month, urging them to move quickly on global warming so that they could turn their attention to health care reform, another top item on his domestic agenda.
And Phil Schiliro, Obama's top legislative aide and a former Waxman staffer, visited the House markup several times this week to lobby Democrats.
In an statement issued minutes after the vote, Obama said, "We are now one step closer to delivering on the promise of a new clean energy economy that will make America less dependent on foreign oil, crack down on polluters, and create millions of new jobs all across America."
The president added, "This achievement is all the more historic for bringing together many who have in the past opposed a common effort, from labor unions to corporate CEOs, and environmentalists to energy companies. I applaud the committee for its action and look forward to signing comprehensive legislation."
Across the aisle, Republicans are largely unified against the Democratic climate bill.
"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 of Virginia said yesterday. "And at the end of the day, that will be what will kill this bill."
And just before last night's final vote, the Energy and Commerce ranking member, Joe Barton (R-Texas), questioned the Democrats' decision to move forward with a sweeping overhaul to energy and climate policy during tight economic times.
"Those of you who support the bill, you have every right to believe those changes are necessary," Barton said. "For the sake of our nation, I hope to some degree you are right, I'm afraid that you're not, but we will see."