House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today that Democrats are considering floor debate this month on energy and climate legislation, even as six committees work through details of the comprehensive measure.
"Can I rule it out? No," the Maryland Democrat told reporters when asked about taking up the legislation before the Fourth of July recess. "And I wouldn't rule it out."
Democratic leaders are trying to juggle both global warming and health care reform, two top priorities of the Obama administration. But which comes first on the floor remains a source of contention.
To date, the Energy and Commerce Committee has approved a 946-page climate bill that now has been referred to six other panels. For health care, three committees -- Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Education and Labor -- have been tasked with writing a bill, but none has actually started marking up its legislation.
Hoyer said he did not want to pick a favorite when it comes to the floor schedule.
"Some people would like to move one first, and some people want to move the other first," he said. "It's going to be dictated essentially by the progress that's made. We want to pass them both. So, whether one goes first or second, we want them to both go."
So far, two powerful House Democrats -- Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel of New York and Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota -- have suggested they have the most at stake with the climate bill.
Both have said they will exercise jurisdiction over the measure to a far greater extent than the leaders of the other House panels: Education and Labor Chairman George Miller of California, Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall of West Virginia, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar of Minnesota, Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman of California.
With that in mind, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave a small push to the Democratic chairmen yesterday.
"The speaker had meetings with the various chairs indicating we'd like to move ahead in the next few weeks, with whatever consideration they think is necessary of the bills," Hoyer explained. "So in large part, scheduling is going to be dictated by how quickly they make progress."
Rangel yesterday said he planned to hold a markup on the climate bill, but he was still reluctant to give a specific schedule. Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee were scheduled to huddle with Rangel today to sift through the obstacles on both climate change and health care.
"I have to talk to the caucus and see where the votes are," Rangel said in an interview. "I have to talk and see what impediments. I don't want anything to stop health care from going through. If indeed some of the issues are resolved, and we can get the president's support and the Senate's support. It's not a question of priority, it's a question of how do you get that nothing is hindered by the climate bill."
Peterson also has turned his attention to the global warming bill, with a meeting scheduled for today with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). In an interview, Peterson said he would not bow to pressure to move the measure too quickly.
"The speaker, she wants to move this, but I think she understands we're going to do this right," Peterson said. "So if it takes time to do it right, we're going to do it right."
Hoyer and Pelosi met with Obama at the White House yesterday to discuss the legislative agenda on health care and energy headed into the summer.
"The president is very focused on trying to accomplish both of those issues prior to the August break," Hoyer said. "Our target is doing both of those issues prior to the August break."