House Democrats are likely to limit GOP opportunities to force politically painful votes on the floor during the upcoming debate on comprehensive energy and global warming legislation, Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said today.
Republicans forced votes on dozens of amendments during last month's Energy and Commerce Committee markup that aimed to negate the climate law if gas and electricity prices rose too high, or if jobs were lost. The GOP campaign arm immediately issued press releases after each vote critical of any Democrats who voted against their amendments.
Slaughter said that she would lean toward limiting the Republicans to up-or-down votes only on outright alternatives. "Because they come up with all these amendments, it makes it so much harder to just have an open rule, because you'd be debating the same bill for a couple of months," Slaughter said. "I think there will be substitutes."
Floor debate on the House climate bill may come later this month if the eight committees that have jurisdiction over H.R. 2454 can finish their work by Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) June 19 deadline. Pelosi told reporters today that she had no specific date in mind for the floor debate, though other Democrats have been urging her to bring the legislation up during the week of June 22.
"We'll bring the bill to the floor when the bill is ready, and not one day sooner," Pelosi said, adding that the June 19 deadline is flexible. "If they need more time, they can -- you know, that's not a hard -- it's a goal. And if they are making progress and they need more time, I think that will not be a problem."
"However, we are going to go forward," she added. "And we want to go forward as soon as possible."
Republicans have launched a steady line of attacks against the Democrats' energy and climate bill, but they have yet to outline their amendment strategy for the floor. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), for example, said today that he did not know if he would push GOP leaders to offer a bill he co-sponsored that would impose a direct carbon tax on fossil fuel industries.
Asked whether he could support the Energy and Commerce Committee proposal, Flake replied, "Not a chance. That's an awful, awful bill."
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said Republicans expect a closed rule on the floor and are likely to push for a vote on an alternative that expands domestic energy production. "An all-of-the-above strategy is where 99.9 percent of where Republicans are at," he said.
Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said he is still trying to figure out what -- if anything -- he will do to address issues in H.R. 2454. Earlier this week, Rangel said he definitely planned a markup, saying he owed it to the Congress not to cede jurisdiction.
But today, Rangel and other Ways and Means Committee Democrats were more circumspect about pushing to modify the legislation. "I cannot be that definitive as a result of talking with our members," Rangel said. "At the end of the day, I want to be certain we're all saying the same thing. That is not easy for the Indian chiefs on the Ways and Means Committee."
Rangel said his top priority is President Obama's health care reform agenda and that would override any work he would want to do on the climate bill. "We are trying to find out what we can and cannot change without holding up health care," Rangel said.
Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee want Rangel to hold his ground. They urged the chairman in a letter today not to punt on jurisdiction. "The committee certainly has a great deal on its plate right now, including the daunting challenge of health care reform," the Republicans wrote. "But our committee has always shown the ability to work on multiple complex measures at the same time."
The GOP members cited a House rule requesting a markup of the bill that they said "imposes a tax increase on families, fundamentally alters almost every aspect of our economy, and raises significant policy issues with respect to our international trade obligations."
Energy and Commerce panel's Dems spread the word
Democratic members who helped craft the climate bill in the Energy and Committee Committee are spreading out to brief their fellow lawmakers in the House and Senate.
"We are talking to members of the House who have concerns and questions," said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who played a key role in negotiating the emission limits and other features of the proposal. "And as the bill is scheduled for floor considerations, I am sure that the number of meetings will increase, because this is the most sweeping environmental regulation that Congress will have ever considered, and so members, obviously, all members are going to want to understand it thoroughly."
Boucher added, "We have assured the speaker that we're available in order to answer those questions, and we're devoting a substantial amount of time to doing that."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said he has been urging lawmakers to meet with Boucher and other members from districts with large industries, including Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.).
"These are people who weren't identified as bleeding-heart greenies like me," Blumenauer said. "But they've really done, I think, good work thinking through the long-term implications. And I also think it would be nice for people to just talk to folks in the outside world who have been a part of this."
Click here to read the letter.