Authors of the comprehensive House energy and climate bill are busy these days trying to get the rest of Congress up to speed on exactly what they have done.
Anticipating a final floor vote later this month or next, Democratic members of the Energy and Commerce Committee have been shuffling in and out of daily meetings with their colleagues, answering questions and listening to a bevy of complaints. Ultimately, they say the talks are expected to result in one sweeping amendment package that hopefully will placate enough reluctant lawmakers so they can vote for the bill.
"This is the best use of our time at the moment," said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), whose support for the Energy and Commerce bill was critical to winning its passage in committee last month. "We want there to be a comfort level with what we've achieved. We need to know what members' concerns are."
Some of the meetings have important ramifications for the actual mechanics of getting the bill to the floor.
For example, Boucher and three other top Energy and Commerce Committee members -- Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) -- spent about 90 minutes yesterday running through the details of their 946-page bill, H.R. 2454, with the House Ways and Means Committee.
"We're just listening really and asking questions," Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told reporters after the meeting, adding that he still has not decided if he will hold a formal markup of the legislation by the June 19 deadline that Democratic leaders have given him.
Waxman also sat down Wednesday for a one-on-one with Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Peterson has a raft of complaints about how the legislation should be better suited for farmers, and he has threatened to vote against the bill and bring as many as 40 to 50 other Democrats with him.
"I'm willing to work with Chairman Peterson to address the different concerns that he's had, and our staffs are talking and I'm waiting to get a report," Waxman said after the meeting with the Agriculture Committee leader.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a Ways and Means Committee member who sponsored a different approach for dealing with climate change, said the education outreach from Waxman, Boucher and the other Democrats is yielding dividends.
"I think we are definitely getting closer to a consensus," said Van Hollen, the director of the House Democrats' campaign operations for 2010. "The more they understand what the Energy and Commerce Committee did, the more comfortable they become."
The Democrats' meetings also serve to address concerns of members nervous about the political consequences of a floor vote, especially if the bill does not make it through the Senate and leaves them exposed to campaign attacks from Republicans.
Boucher said that among the dozens of lawmakers he has spoken with in recent days was the House Democratic sophomore class that helped put the party into the majority in 2006.
"We heard a variety of questions, spanning all the different areas of concern, from allocations to electricity prices to how the market is going to operate to how to explain the need for this in their congressional districts," Boucher said, adding that he has also spoken with several Republicans.
"My prediction is we'll have Republican votes for the bill," he said. "I can't tell you in what number. But I'll tell you in some number."
Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) was the only Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee to vote for the climate bill. And for the most part, she is likely to be among a small group on the floor to vote for the bill as Republican leaders keep up a steady line of attacks against the proposal.
"That's an awful, awful bill," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who co-sponsored legislation this spring that would impose a direct carbon tax on fossil fuel industries. Asked if his support for the carbon tax bill could translate into a possible vote for the cap-and-trade approach, Flake replied, "Not a chance."
Interviews with several rank-and-file Democrats who do not normally work on the climate issue suggests there is still a lot of work for Boucher and his fellow Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats.
"My biggest concern is we have a bill that we can explain to our constituents," said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee. "I think that's the hardest thing. There were a lot of members who feel that way, that cap and trade is just a very hard concept to explain.
"It's been defined relatively effectively, if not accurately necessarily, by the opponents of it," Yarmuth added. "It makes it a difficult sell job."
Still, Yarmuth said he could "probably" vote for the Energy and Commerce Committee bill.
Several lawmakers said they knew little about the House bill.
"I suspect I'm like a lot of members, which is, I've still got a lot to learn about it," said seven-term Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.), who does not serve on any of the eight committees beyond Energy and Commerce that still have a role to play on the climate bill. "I think there's a lot of legitimate questions about how it works."
"I could not say at this moment," added Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), a freshman from Orlando who beat four-term Republican Rep. Ric Keller last November. "I've not had a chance to look at it close enough to my own satisfaction. And that's just a function from the fact we've been dealing with an awful lot of things during the last few months."
Third-term Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.) said he is "leaning no" on the combined energy and climate bill because of concerns about how it would address rising electricity prices -- something the sponsors say they have considered. Salazar said he would prefer Congress split up energy and global warming into two separate bills, passing the first now and waiting until later on the latter.
"I had a little talk with the speaker," Salazar said. "Depending on what comes out in the end, we might be able to support a bill. Right now, as it currently stands, I don't think I could support it."
Offering a bit of political candor, Salazar also said his brother, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and a former Democratic senator from Colorado, also has reservations about the cap-and-trade components of the House proposal.
"Actually, I think he feels about the same way I do," Rep. Salazar said. "We want to make sure that us oil-patch Democrats are well positioned, that if we have to take a vote, that we'll take the right vote. And second of all, I'd hope we'd move the bill in the Senate before it comes to the House, because the Senate I don't think is going to pass any kind of version like the one we do."
Salazar's preferred strategy is a long shot given the floor schedules spelled out so far by House and Senate Democratic leaders. But that does not mean House Democrats are not heeding his concerns and doing what they can to start working on the Senate, where a 60-vote majority will be needed to defeat an expected Republican filibuster.
On Tuesday, Boucher, Waxman and Markey worked a room of about 15 Senate Democrats, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer of California, and Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
Then yesterday, Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee staff director, Phil Barnett, led a more detailed discussion of the bill in front of Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Kit Bond (R-Mo.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Boxer. Staff to many other Democratic and GOP senators, as well as committees, also attended the hourlong briefing.
Boucher said he will be meeting later this month with another group of senators at the invitation of Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D). Given all of the briefings he has been in, Boucher also joked that he has not had time to raise a number of concerns with Waxman about the legislation, including greenhouse gas emission limits that he thinks should be less aggressive.
"I've frankly been so busy as a part of the education team," Boucher said. "Maybe this is why Henry put me on the education team."
Reporters Ben Geman and Robin Bravender contributed.