The Senate climate bill won't be unveiled until Democratic leaders and a key Republican ally of the Obama administration resolve their differences over whether there should be a separate floor debate this year on immigration, one of the bill's authors, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), said today.
Kerry and Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had planned to release their long-awaited global warming legislation yesterday during a press conference featuring business, religious and military leaders. But the bill's rollout has been postponed indefinitely as Graham tangles with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the White House over plans to also tackle immigration ahead of November's midterm elections.
"You all understand the dynamic that has to be resolved, and I'm hopeful it'll be resolved as soon as possible," Kerry told reporters today in his Senate office. "I'm very hopeful about that. But it obviously has to be resolved before we can make the announcement. But we're poised, as soon as possible."
Kerry said he has spoken several times with Reid and Graham since the weekend in a bid to end the debate over the timing on immigration and get back to the Senate energy bill that has been more than six months in the making. "I think he's working in good faith, and he's working diligently and appropriately to try to help find resolution," Kerry said of Reid. "As is Lindsey Graham."
Kerry, Graham and Lieberman plan to send their bill to U.S. EPA as soon as today to begin what is expected to be a six-week economic analysis of the proposal that caps greenhouse gas emissions across multiple economic sectors, as well as expands domestic production of oil, gas and nuclear power, he said.
"We're not stopping, not one moment," Kerry said. "We're meeting. We're talking. We continue to work on certain issues. ... We're full speed ahead notwithstanding this moment of public stall. And we hope that the issue can be resolved soon."
The three senators met yesterday in the Capitol for about 45 minutes, their first chance to meet in person since Graham threatened over the weekend to leave the negotiations over immigration. "It was a love fest," Kerry joked. "We had a good time."
After that meeting, Graham bemoaned Reid's decision to add immigration to the Senate calendar this year, a hot-button issue that he warned would "divide the country" while helping the Nevada Democrat increase voter turnout among Hispanics in the midterm elections.
"I thought there was one last chance in this Congress to do something serious, and it was energy and climate," Graham said yesterday. "Guys, I would have never spent all this time and effort working on energy and climate if I thought on the day of the rollout you were going to be asking me, 'What do you think about immigration now that it's coming up?'"
Graham said he would not participate in an introduction ceremony on the climate bill so long as Reid holds on to his plans to move immigration. "I think energy and climate is tough," Graham said. "Under the best of circumstances, it'd be tough. I've got a heavy lift here. So does John and Joe. So if you took the best of circumstances and you made it crap, there's a point in time between being courageous and stupid."
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said yesterday his boss wants to take up both issues -- immigration and climate -- this year. Manley also pointed to past statements from Graham that he wanted Democrats to address immigration this year.
"As far as breaking faith goes, Senator Graham has been demanding Democratic leadership on immigration for months, so it's difficult to understand why we have gotten this reaction to Reid demonstrating his commitment to the issue," Manley said. "There is no reason why we can't do both."
The Graham-Reid dispute appears to be at an impasse, with both sides digging in deeper on their positions. But Kerry insisted there is more going on than meets the eye.
"You're seeing the public piece, which is stalemate," he said. "I understand that. But behind the scenes, there are different parties and people working to try to see if we can find a sensible way through this thicket. And I'm confident there is one, and we'll get there."
Groups push for action
Concerned about the potential demise of their top-tier legislative request, environmental groups and a military veterans group working on energy issues increased the pressure today on the Senate to get back to work on comprehensive energy and climate legislation even as the bill languishes on its sick bed.
Leaders from 31 top green organizations sent a letter to every senator urging action on the climate bill.
"The United States Senate stands at a moment in history in which decisions made today will have a lasting impact on generations of Americans to come," wrote the Alliance for Climate Protection, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and Oceana. "The Senate faces a choice between leading America forward in a new clean energy economy or holding America back by preserving the failed energy policies of the past."
Also today, Operation Free, a group of military veterans, unveiled an "oil profit counter" that will be displayed in Kerry's office. According to the group, the device shows how much money Kerry's climate bill would prevent going each year to Iran if the legislation became law, and U.S. dependence on foreign oil decreased. The digital counter read just under $100 million after being turned on just before noon yesterday, the time Kerry's press conference was scheduled to have happened.
On and off Capitol Hill, the guessing game has begun over whether a climate bill without Graham has any chance of notching 60 votes.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said yesterday he would not declare the legislation dead. "I think it's likely that it'll come back," he said. But he also bemoaned chances if Graham stays out. "I think it makes it less likely," he said. "I think he's a key part."
Maine Republican Susan Collins nudged the Obama administration to keep an open mind when it comes to Graham's demands on immigration and energy.
"Certainly Senator Graham has played a key role on both issues," Collins said. "I'd think the administration would listen to his preferences. But it's really not my fight."
Outside observers said that while the bill appears to be in trouble, they would not rule out its return to life.
"The lesson of health care is major legislation has more lives than a cat," said Scott Segal, an industry attorney for electric utilities and petroleum refiners at Bracewell & Giuliani. "And even in the case of climate change, it's been pronounced dead on several occasions. I'm not willing to say we're done for. Senators can be mercurial. They can decide what was unacceptable one day can be repackaged and be acceptable the next."