Democratic turf war looms over House emissions bill

The House Ways and Means Committee plans to mark up global warming emissions legislation by Memorial Day, setting up a possible turf fight among powerful Democratic committee leaders over one of President Obama's signature agenda items.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he wants to move a climate bill within the next three months and has asked committee members to begin sorting through at least four different legislative proposals that would place a price on greenhouse gas emissions that scientists attribute to global warming.

Rangel's committee members also are sifting through any jurisdictional issues associated with their climate bills to determine what crossover they may have with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Rangel's tax-writing panel is likely to claim jurisdiction over climate legislation that generates revenues for the Treasury, a challenge of sorts for Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) as he produces his own comprehensive energy and climate measure.

In an interview, Rangel downplayed the idea of a jurisdictional battle with Waxman. "I'm not concerned with turf," he said. "I'm concerned with getting a bill."

A Waxman spokeswoman issued a statement that asserted authority over the global warming issue while also trying to smooth over any intra-party differences. "The Energy and Commerce Committee is the committee with primary jurisdiction over energy and climate policy," the aide said. "But Chairman Waxman is interested in working with all the committees interested in moving legislation forward."


Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who until earlier this year chaired a key Energy and Commerce subcommittee on climate change legislation, said he had concerns over the Ways and Means Committee's interest in the global warming issue. "I have a feeling we may have a jurisdictional tiff over that," Boucher said.

Boucher noted the Energy and Commerce Committee also plans to move a climate bill by Memorial Day. "That can be done because we've done so much preliminary work already," he said. "The groundwork was laid over the last Congress. Twenty-seven days of hearings in my subcommittee. A 400-plus page statutory draft, which we published on the committee's Web site in October. And now all that remains is making some key policy decisions."

Some House Republicans said they were thrilled at the idea of Democratic infighting over the climate plan that Obama himself called for last night in his first speech before a joint session of Congress.

"The more I get the Democrats fighting each other on whatever, I'm happy," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a skeptic on climate science and the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "I hope Rangel and Waxman get into a huge fight over this. I'll provide the gloves."

Democratic leaders don't pick sides

Several top Democratic lawmakers tried to smooth over any possible problems between Waxman and Rangel.

"Listen, this is one of the speaker's top priorities," said Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, the fourth-highest ranking House Democrat and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. "We also recognize that we must move with alacrity, so to speak."

"We're going to have a conversation, and try and come up with the best ideas," added Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), another member of the Ways and Means panel and the House Democratic leader for the 2010 election campaign. "No one has a monopoly on good ideas here. We're going to have to draw the best from all the proposals."

Larson is an outspoken supporter of carbon tax legislation, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ways and Means Committee. The six-term lawmaker is expected to reintroduce his tax proposal tomorrow.

Van Hollen also plans to add another climate proposal to the mix later this week with a bill that he calls "cap and dividend." Under his bill, revenue collected from the new global warming program would be returned to Americans to help them deal with higher energy bills and other associated costs. "We need to simplify the system in order to make it work," Van Hollen said. "The cap we're envisioning would take place at the very top of the carbon chain. In other words, you don't have to put the cap on every industry. If you put the cap high enough in the carbon chain, you're going to have a market impact downstream."

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said in a statement that both senior Democratic committee leaders have a role to play in a climate debate that is expected to receive a first-ever floor vote later this year. "Given that this is a revenue matter, the speaker looks forward to working with Chairman Waxman, Chairman Rangel and other committee chairs on climate legislation," he said.

Aside from which committee handles a climate bill, Democrats still must decide what type of mechanism they will use to tackle global warming: a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system or a hybrid approach that pulls from both. Rangel said today that he has made no decision on which approach he will take. Waxman has said he prefers a cap-and-trade system similar to what Congress established with the 1990 Clean Air Act to reduce acid rain.

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