House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) wants to reach agreement by tomorrow with farm state Democrats who have raised concerns about the comprehensive energy and global warming bill headed for a floor debate as early as next week.
"I don't see it should go for any longer than that," Waxman told reporters yesterday when asked if he would set himself a deadline to finish negotiations with House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
The two powerful House Democrats said Thursday that they had made "good progress" in their talks on the climate bill, H.R. 2454, following an hourlong meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But Waxman said yesterday that he has not spoken to Peterson since that session as the congressmen handed the negotiations over to their staffs.
Waxman declined to comment on the details of the climate talks, though the farm state lawmakers have not been shy in stating their problems with provisions in the bill that give U.S. EPA the principal oversight role for the carbon offset market. Peterson also is against a draft EPA regulation that would hold the ethanol industry accountable for "indirect land use," such as crop conversion in other countries.
House Democratic leaders are working behind the scenes to shore up support among the farm state lawmakers through language that could be added to the bill in a manager's amendment package. It is unclear, though, if those changes will be enough.
"We're getting there," Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said yesterday. "It's a close vote."
Clyburn said his whip operation started two weeks ago in preparation for the floor debate, with a large focus on the farmers. "I think there are some real concerns that the rural communities have, especially the co-ops, as to how they are faring, and the states that they represent, how they fare in all of this as opposed to larger states," Clyburn said. "And so we've got to work out all of those equity issues."
While Democrats work the vote in private, one of Pelosi's closest allies is pushing a much more public line to the debate with the farm state lawmakers. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, yesterday called notice for a hearing Thursday on how climate change affects agriculture and forestry.
Markey's hearing will include testimony from several agricultural researchers on the prospect of increased drought, precipitation changes, higher temperatures, and more weeds and pests.
Waxman and Markey are pushing the climate bill even as rank-and-file House Democrats from agricultural districts challenge the House legislation.
"Tremendous concerns," said Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.), a senior member of the Agriculture Committee. Holden said he would still vote against the bill even if Waxman and Peterson resolved their differences because of his own district's reliance on coal.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) said he wants House Democratic leaders to shift their focus entirely to the health care debate. The nine-term congressman also predicted Peterson would not move in any formal way to vote on Waxman's legislation. "I don't expect a markup in Ag because it would not be passed out favorably," Pomeroy said.
Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee are also expected to sidestep any formal action on the climate bill as they keep their attention entirely on President Obama's health care reform package.
"I don't see any indication the committee will mark up the bill," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee. "It's very unfortunate."
Pelosi has given eight committees reviewing the Waxman bill until Friday to wrap up their work, and most are expected to defer to the Energy and Commerce package along with a number of modifications as part of a manager's amendment.
'We'll get the votes' -- Hoyer
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) yesterday said he expected a floor victory, although he added that no scheduling decisions have been made.
"I think we'll get the votes on energy," Hoyer said. "But you know how it is, you've got to work it and figure out who's on first, and what triggers this guy to say 'no' or triggers this guy to say 'yes.'"
Waxman and other Democrats from the Energy and Commerce Committee are pressing for a floor debate before lawmakers leave Washington at the end of next week for the Independence Day recess.
Asked if he would take the bill to the floor without the support of the farmers and Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee, Waxman yesterday insisted he would keep working to satisfy any outstanding reservations. "We want to work out those issues," he said. "We want them with us."
"I just know that everybody is looking at the July Fourth recess and what's going to happen on health care after that, and that's the motivation to keep this ball rolling," added Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), one of the few farm-state Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
But House Republican leaders see the first-ever floor debate on climate legislation taking a different twist.
"I think they've got serious problems with passing that bill in this House," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told E&E. "I'd be very surprised if we didn't have a strong vote in opposition."
Cantor added that GOP leadership has not settled yet on its floor strategy for amendments to challenge the Democrat-led bill.
Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he expects Democrats will back away from the floor debate.
"It's going to be a close vote either way," Barton said. "Their whip count has to be within 10 votes to bring it up, because there's going to be a bunch of guys on the floor that are only going to vote for it if they need their vote to pass. And if it looks like they can't pass it, it's going to go down pretty big. I think it's still up in the air whether they're going to bring it up or not."
Schedule: The select committee hearing is Thursday, June 18, at 9:30 a.m. in 2175 Rayburn.
Witnesses: Jerry Hatfield, supervisory plant physiologist, Agriculture Department; Heather Cooley, senior researcher, Pacific Institute; Tom Troxel, director, Black Hills Forest Resource Association; Johannes Lehmann, associate professor of soil fertility management/soil biogeochemistry, Cornell University; and Ford West, president of the Fertilizer Institute.