Top House Democrats inched closer to a final deal today on a comprehensive energy and global warming bill but stopped short of promising a floor debate next week.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the legislation's principal authors, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), worked furiously to resolve differences and line up votes on the climate measure during a series of meetings this afternoon with a top House farm state lawmaker and a handful of Republicans.
"I feel pretty good about it," Pelosi told reporters as she left a meeting with Waxman, Markey and Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
"We have worked out a lot of the issues, resolved them completely," Waxman added. "I think we had an idea for conceptual understanding that we're now looking at in more detail. And I think we're almost there."
Even Peterson, who yesterday tossed cold water on Waxman's optimistic assessment of the negotiations, sounded upbeat about the chances of a final deal being reached soon. "We got a couple things resolved," Peterson told E&E. "They came up with a new idea that has good possibilities. We're going to take a look now and see if it works."
Peterson is pressing for a number of changes to the bill approved last month by the Energy and Commerce Committee, including a greater number of allowances for rural electric cooperatives and a larger management role for the Agriculture Department.
The Democrats declined to comment on the specifics of their negotiations and also stayed clear of any guarantee that the climate bill would be ready for the floor before lawmakers break at the end of next week for the Independence Day recess.
Pelosi noted Republican efforts today to delay significant floor action on the fiscal 2010 Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations bill by forcing seven hours of nonstop voting on amendments. "I don't know about that," Pelosi said of the climate bill's timing next week. "You see how the floor is here. I can't speak for that. But we're within range."
Waxman repeated his desire to pass the climate bill before the Fourth of July recess so the House can turn its attention primarily to health care reform. "I don't think we should dismiss the idea of legislation next week," he said.
Meeting with GOP
In anticipation of floor debate, Pelosi, Waxman and Markey tried today to sway moderate Republicans by inviting 11 members for an hourlong meeting to discuss the bill.
GOP members in the meeting included Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Leonard Lance of New Jersey, Mary Bono Mack of California, Vernon Ehlers of Michigan, Mark Kirk and Tim Johnson of Illinois, Peter King of New York, Mike Castle of Delaware, Todd Platts and Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania and Thomas Petri of Wisconsin.
Several of the Republicans left the session pleased they had a chance to voice their opinions, but it was unclear if the Democrats made any traction.
"They don't start talking to us unless they need votes," said Kirk, who pressed during the meeting for an expansion of domestic energy production.
Bono Mack, the lone Republican to vote for the bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee, said she, too, would like to see an expansion of the legislation for nuclear power. "It's my sense they want the flagship label of bipartisanship," she said.
Waxman said the meeting with Republicans was aimed at informing them about what was already in the legislation and the deals approved by industrial-state Democrats that likely address their concerns. "This was an opportunity to discuss it, to educate them and get them to see it from our perspective, and hopefully, that will bring them along," he said.
Asked about adding language to the legislation that expands energy production, Pelosi cited passage earlier this week of such a proposal in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "It's part of the Senate bill," she said. "It's something that will probably be done at some point; whether it's part of this bill or not remains to be seen."
As for floor timing, even some of the Democrats who support the climate bill are coming down on the side of a less aggressive floor schedule.
"This is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to hit the floor since the civil rights bills of the 1960s," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a member of the Pelosi-created Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. "I don't think there's any value in trying to rush it through. The value can only be in getting it improved and implemented."
Cleaver said he would "absolutely" vote for the House bill, though he also wants to see Waxman make changes that address employment in minority communities. And he said those issues have been raised with Waxman during meetings with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Obama administration is also engaged in the House debate, with White House Council on Environmental Quality adviser Van Jones visiting last week with the Congressional Black Caucus.
"The White House is dispatching any of their people upon request and trying to make sure no group is left out," Cleaver said.
Other Democrats are pressing leaders to keep the momentum going with a floor debate next week.
"It's the same reason you go to dunk after a fast break, to get it done," said Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.).
Reporters Allison Winter and Eric Bontrager contributed.
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