Democratic leaders in a race to lasso fence-sitters

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders are racing to round up votes needed to pass a comprehensive energy and global warming bill, including meetings today with the party's freshmen and sophomore classes and a sit-down with moderate Republicans.

"We're right on the mark, and by Friday we should have the 218 that we need," Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, a member of the Democratic whip team, told reporters during a brief break from his talks with lawmakers on the House floor.

Democrats are currently hovering near 190 votes in favor of the bill following a major deal last night on rural issues between Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Peterson said he would vote for the bill and could bring a large number of farm-state Democrats who have reservations about the legislation sponsored by Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).


"I think they will be able to get the votes to pass this," Peterson told reporters today during a conference call.

Even with the agreement on farm issues, Democrats have some distance to 218.

Pelosi made the energy bill a featured part of her regularly scheduled meeting today with 32 Democratic freshman, and she is expected to make the same case later today with more than two dozen sophomores. The California Democrat also has invited to her office the 11 or so Republicans who have been picked as possible "yes" votes because of their past records on environmental issues.

But Butterfield said he is not counting on GOP support as he counts votes. "For whip purposes, we're assuming the worst, that we'll have absolutely no help from Republican colleagues," he said.

The North Carolina Democrat also said he wants President Obama play a more active role as the floor debate gets closer.

"I've encouraged the White House really to take their advocacy to a higher level," Butterfield said. "The president has got to exert leadership on this issue. I know he cares deeply about it. He told us in the beginning that he'd allow the House and the Senate to develop their own plans. His only concern was let's do it quickly. But now I think the president needs to get more involved in persuasion."

Obama invited Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee to the White House for a meeting on the climate bill last month as they neared a vote on the measure. He also called at least one wavering Democrat -- Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas -- during the bill's markup. Administration officials have been on Capitol Hill in recent days to help broker agreements, including White House energy adviser Carol Browner and Phil Schiliro, Obama's top legislative aide.

Democrats still fence-sitting on the climate bill come primarily from the Midwest and South. They also include lawmakers who were first elected to the House in 2006 and 2008.

"It's important we get it right," said Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), a freshman on the Agriculture Committee. "It's controversial. So it's one of those cases where one ought to do his or her homework before voting on something genuinely important for this country. And I'd put this bill in that category."

GOP also working for votes

Republicans are also trying to sway votes on the climate bill, with Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and his chief deputy whip, Kevin McCarthy of California, headed to a meeting of the moderate GOP members later today.

At a press conference today, Cantor said he believes Democrats have 190 votes for the bill. "That falls way short of the necessary 218," he said.

GOP lawmakers also took shots at the economic consequences of the legislation. Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, for example, said the bill would raise energy prices "from Pittsburgh to Wyoming" because those parts of the country are most reliant on coal.

"Only liberals in this Congress would figure out a way not to use this," Blunt said about coal use in the bill.

Democrats are expecting to bring the climate bill to the House floor on Friday morning, according to Rules Chairwoman Louis Slaughter (D-N.Y.). But the debate won't begin until the House adopts an authorization bill for the Defense Department and two fiscal 2010 spending bills for the Department of Homeland Security and Interior Department and U.S. EPA.

A weekend session remains a possibility as House Democrats try to wrap up their work before the July Fourth recess.

Republicans also could bog down the process with procedural motions, something they did last week on the floor during an all-day marathon that forced a record 53 votes.

Reporter Christa Marshall contributed.

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