President Obama is pressing the Senate to pivot off the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to pass a "long-term energy strategy" modeled after legislation written by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
"The fact of the matter is, is that not only do we have to revisit how these oil companies are operating ... but we've also still got this overarching issue," Obama said at a San Francisco fundraiser yesterday for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"Even if you hadn't seen the catastrophe down in the Gulf, the reason that folks are now having to go down a mile deep into the ocean, and then another mile drilling into the ground below, that is because the easy oil fields and oil wells are gone, or they're starting to diminish."
He added, "That tells us that we've got to have a long-term energy strategy in this country. And we've got to start -- we've got to start cultivating -- we've got to start cultivating solar and wind and biodiesel. And we've got to increase energy efficiency across our economy in our buildings and our automobiles."
Obama spoke about the push for an energy and climate bill just hours after meeting with a skeptical Senate Republican conference on Capitol Hill where members -- including Graham -- urged him to pare back and try a less comprehensive approach because of uncertainties over the oil spill.
"On energy and climate, the way you move forward is you have a comprehensive approach you can sell, and I don't think many people believe that the oil spill has helped to get more voters on offshore drilling," Graham told reporters after the meeting with Obama. "It's made it a harder climb, so let's do smaller versions of an energy, climate bill."
Graham, who dropped out of the negotiations with Kerry and Lieberman last month, said he remained open to legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions if the votes are there. But he also said he would be supportive of just passing incentives for nuclear power and alternative energies. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see 60 votes right now for cap and carbon and expanding offshore drilling," he said.
Despite Graham's comments, Obama last night evoked the South Carolina Republican's name in calling for more GOP senators to support legislation that would place a first-ever limit on greenhouse gases while also expanding domestic oil, gas and nuclear power production.
"I said to the Republicans, join with me," Obama said. "There's been some good work done by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Let's go. Let's not wait. Let's show the American people that in the midst of this crisis, all of us are opening our eyes to what's necessary to fulfill the promise to our children and our grandchildren."
Kerry sees 'relatively easy vote'
In Washington today, Kerry also made the case for keeping legislation with a price on carbon in the mix when the Senate debate starts later this year.
Speaking at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, Kerry recalled Graham's remarks earlier this year against the Senate's taking up just a "half-assed energy bill."
"It's not going to solve anything," Kerry said. "We did an energy bill in 2005. We did an energy bill in 2007. We've had two energy bills in the last four years, five years, whatever. What's it done?"
On oil drilling, Kerry argued that his proposal would set greater restrictions than current law that allows the president to clear a path for development 3 miles off the coast anywhere in the country. "That's the law today," Kerry said. "Our bill is more restrictive than that. It gives the states more power to have input to say no."
Ultimately, Kerry said he expected the debate over oil drilling to be settled on the floor during amendment debate.
"No matter what you start with, someone is going to come with an amendment to strip all drilling, and someone is going to come with an amendment to drill everywhere in America, and the Senate has to vote for it," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to meet with key committee leaders early next month after the Memorial Day recess to determine the fate of energy and climate legislation. Reid also plans to spend time discussing energy and climate with the larger caucus of all 59 Senate Democrats.
As the lobbying campaign picks up, Kerry said he will be joined by electric utility, oil and nuclear industry officials in urging senators to support a bill that includes a price on carbon emissions. But he acknowledged that his campaign to secure 60 votes may need to extend beyond the August recess.
"We believe that this is now a relatively easy vote," Kerry said. "Now we may not get to the point where we convince people, I grant you. We may not get to the place where they accept that. And so it may be, timing-wise, we wait a few months."
Kerry said he wasn't conceding the bill's demise this year, although he left wide open the prospect he may be pushing the issue into 2011.
"This isn't going away," he said. "We may not get enough people to get out of the election fear factor this year, but this isn't going away. And we are going to stay on it and keep pushing, because I think it is the best thing that could happen for America's economy, for our national security, for our health, and for our stewardship of our country."