Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has bumped back the deadline until Sept. 28 for the six committees working on a comprehensive climate change and energy bill.
"This was always going to be a huge undertaking," Reid spokesman Jim Manley told reporters yesterday following a meeting in the Capitol with the Senate committee leaders and President Obama's top energy adviser, Carol Browner. "The timeline has shifted slightly, to get them more involved."
Originally, Reid wanted the Environment and Public Works Committee and other panels that deal with tax, agriculture, energy and foreign relation issues to have their work done by Sept. 18. But the sheer size of the legislation, not to mention the difficult task of winning 60 votes on an issue that breaks along both regional and party lines, convinced the Nevada Democrat to give the committees a little bit more time.
Reid is still sticking with his plan to get the legislation through the Senate in time for U.N. climate negotiations this December in Copenhagen, Denmark.
"The idea was to put together a bill that gets 60 votes before the meeting in Copenhagen," Manley said.
Reid has not budged from his long-standing plan to keep climate provisions wedded together with a raft of energy items already approved in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Given the number of pieces, we can't move them individually," Manley said. "We have to move them together."
Aides to EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said earlier this week that she plans to release legislative text on the core pieces of a climate package within the next two weeks, with a markup penciled in for either the last week of this month or early August.
But a senior Democratic member of the EPW panel said yesterday that he is not sure Boxer should move so quickly.
"I just don't know if it would work," said Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who sits on the EPW panel. "I wish her well. But I think circumstances are going to make that difficult."
Boxer aides did not respond to requests for comment on whether the EPW Committee markup schedule had changed in light of Reid's new deadline.
'It all depends on the 60 votes'
Baucus said no firm policy decisions about the climate bill came out of yesterday's meeting with Reid, Browner and the other committee leaders. Baucus, who right now is at the center of Senate negotiations on health care reform, also said he was confident he could finish his committee's work on climate on time.
"We will meet that deadline," said Baucus, who yesterday also confirmed that he planned to hold a markup on the climate bill's emission allocation and trade provisions.
Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) left yesterday's meeting in Reid's office and backtracked on comments he had made earlier in the day where he said he did plan to conduct a markup on the climate bill.
"I don't know about that yet," Harkin said. "I'll be consulting with [ranking member] Saxby Chambliss, of course, and see how he feels about it."
Harkin said he will hold a July 22 hearing on global warming legislation.
It is unclear what, if anything, the Foreign Relations and Commerce committees will do with the climate bill.
Meantime, Harkin said both Reid and Browner were assertive with the committee leaders in trying to get Senate floor action on climate before December. But he expressed some skepticism that the legislation could get done this year at the same time the Senate deals with health care reform, appropriations bills and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
"It all depends on the 60 votes," Harkin said. "Once we get the 60 votes, the coast is clear. But what kind of deals have to be made to get to 60 votes?"
He added, "My experience is these things take a lot of time."
Senate Democrats also must deal with Republicans who are itching for a fight on the climate bill, especially if it sticks closely to the House-passed measure.
"A 1,400-page monstrosity," was how Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime supporter of cap-and-trade legislation, described the House bill yesterday.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who supported a nationwide renewable electricity standard in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he would not support a larger climate bill. "Absolutely and adamantly opposed to cap and trade," he said. "It's one of the worst ideas I can imagine you can force on the economy at this point in time."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said that Reid should pull back on his plans for a fall debate on global warming. "I think he'll probably find the public reaction to this will be very bad," Kyl said. "He may want to rethink bringing it up in the Senate."
Senior reporter Ben Geman contributed.