Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are planning to release their climate and energy bill as soon as next week even if they cannot win back their longtime GOP partner, according to a top Senate Democrat.
Kerry revealed the tentative schedule for the unveiling of his long-awaited measure during the Democrats' weekly meeting of committee leaders. "He said it's looking good, and he hopes to have a press conference next week," said Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Both Kerry and Lieberman sidestepped questions about the timing of their bill. "It's coming soon," Lieberman said.
Kerry, Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) originally planned to release their bill April 26 but postponed the press conference after Graham complained that Democratic leaders had pushed the politically thorny issue of immigration onto the Senate agenda, making it impossible for him to also work on the climate legislation.
The Kerry-Lieberman climate bill is expected to call by 2020 for a 17 percent cut in emissions below 2005 levels, with the emission limits applying to different sectors of the economy at different times. Trade-sensitive manufacturers, for example, would start in the climate program six years after power plants, Kerry said today. The legislation is also expected to promote increased domestic production of nuclear power and offshore oil and gas, despite the outcry from environmentalists in the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill.
Kerry said the three senators continue to talk behind the scenes, despite Graham's protest on immigration. "He's standing by the work product, and he's standing by the bill, no matter what," Kerry said.
Boxer said today that Kerry and Lieberman will release the bill with or without Graham. "I think they've decided that if he is, that would be great, but if not, we're going to move forward," she said.
The release of the bill comes as Democratic leaders ramp up their pressure on the duo to produce their bill and begin the campaign of finding more Republicans.
"The only real chance we have to get it done this year is to make sure it is bipartisan," said Chris Miller, the top climate aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "And to date ... we've seen little to any public interest by very many Republicans."
Miller, speaking at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in Washington, said Reid will probably punt the climate bill if it does not look like the measure is within striking distance of 60 votes. "Because of the way the Senate works these days, we can't even consider moving to a bill unless you've got 60 votes," Miller said, adding that it "might not be worth taking a bill to the floor at all just to see it fail" if it is shy of 60.
To date, only Graham and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) have spoken out in favor of supporting a mandatory cap on greenhouse gases, though they have disagreed on the exact pricing mechanism to reduce emissions.
"We are hopeful, given the short time frame left in the window for considering this legislation, that we'll get some support," Miller said. "Because if we don't, the chances we're going to be able to legislate on this in the next few years is going to decline significantly."
Top GOP targets include Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, George LeMieux of Florida, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and George Voinovich of Ohio. But many of those senators say they are taking a wait-and-see approach until Kerry releases the legislation.
"I'm willing to work on it," LeMieux said today. "I'd like to see it. I was about to see it, but then the whole process fell apart."
Brown said he is focused on other issues, including financial regulatory reform and economic recovery.
And Voinovich, who retires in January, said he does not expect the climate bill to gain any momentum. "I'm overwhelmed, and I only have a little time left," he said yesterday. "And I'm not really confident that because of what's going on with all the other stuff, in spite of the fact there are people who are very desirous of something taking place, that it's going to go anywhere."