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House Dems prepare to gamble on cap-and-trade vote

Correction appended.

House Democratic leaders appear ready to roll the dice by moving ahead with a floor debate on energy and global warming legislation despite not knowing if they have the 218 votes needed to pass the bill.

Emerging shortly after midnight following a more than two-hour meeting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, several top Democrats expressed cautious optimism about their ability to pass the sweeping bill, now called H.R. 2454, that would establish a mandatory cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"We could be there," Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told E&E. "We've got to assure ourselves that we are. But we could be there. What I'm saying is we could have them, but there are some that are not 'Yeah, no doubt about it.'"

Hoyer said Democrats will likely start the day with a debate over the rule on the climate bill, which had not been finished as of 1 a.m. today. After that, they are not sure if they will move directly to the actual bill or complete consideration of the fiscal 2010 spending bill for the Interior Department and U.S. EPA.

As for the climate bill, the Democrats were clearly nervous about pushing for a floor debate on an issue that makes many of their own rank-and-file members uneasy.

Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said the plan was to pass the climate bill today, even if it is with the slimmest of margins. "We wouldn't go if we didn't think we had them," he said. "It's going to be close."

Throughout the day, different sources offered up different projected whip counts on what is set to be the first-ever House floor vote on cap-and-trade legislation.

"I'm not confident about anything," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a lead member of the Democratic whip team. "But I will say we are closing in on the numbers. We feel good about the way things are going today."

Even Obama played a big role yesterday, working the phones and visiting with several fence-sitting members at the White House as his aides eyed the razor-thin margin.

"I can't stress enough the importance of this vote," Obama said during a quickly arranged Rose Garden speech yesterday to promote the bill. "I know it's going to be a close vote, partially because of the misinformation that's out there that suggests there's somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and our economic growth."

Last-minute maneuvering

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While several Democrats signaled a victory, E&E's analysis continues to show a more conservative outlook, with 185 solid "yes" votes and about 80 fence-sitters from a cross section of largely rural and heavy industry districts.

Several House Democrats held back yesterday from making any commitments, suggesting they would wait until the buzzer sounds.

"I'm not going to make a decision until I see the final deal," said Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), a leader of the House Blue Dog Coalition. "And that thing changes. It may change right up until the vote. That's probably why I won't make a decision until right at the end."

Rep. Kathy Dahlkamper (D-Pa.) said she has received lots of attention from the Obama administration in recent days. Asked if anyone has told her she could be the deciding vote on the floor, the freshman from Erie replied, "No they haven't. See, if I vote early, then I won't be. It depends on when you vote, whether you're the make-or-break vote."

Another freshman, Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.), said he is still holding out until some regional issues get addressed, including international offsets and rewards for existing hydropower. "There's a lot of things that have happened, and a lot of things that are happening, and we'll see how it all ends up tomorrow," he said. "There's still a lot of work going on tonight."

Pelosi personally worked reluctant members on the House floor, including an exchange with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

A handful of uncommitted Democrats also got a special invitation while meeting yesterday at the White House with Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. "Those that were undecided got a tap on the shoulder and met with the president," said Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), who already has said he will vote for the bill and, therefore, did not get a tap.

The seven sophomore Democrats at the meeting with Emanuel were Reps. Yvette Clarke of New York, Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill of Indiana, Ron Klein of Florida, Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, Betsy Sutton of Ohio and Walz.

Determining where some Democrats are is in and of itself something like a treasure hunt. DeGette, for example, said she has received commitments from four of five members in the Colorado Democratic delegation, with Rep. John Salazar remaining on the fence.

But Rep. Betsey Markey (D-Colo.) was not willing to commit when asked about her vote. "Just holding off right now," she said, declining further comment.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a key lawmaker in negotiating the climate bill, said earlier this week that getting a firm grip on the House vote tallies can be elusive. "Sometimes a person can be whipped by three different people and give three different answers," Doyle said. "You never know until the card goes in the slot and the button gets pushed."

Several Democratic lawmakers yesterday took a more definitive public stance in favor of the bill, including Reps. Leonard Boswell of Iowa, Dennis Cardoza of California, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Sander Levin of Michigan, Edolphus Towns of New York and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado.

"I'm claiming about a 75 percent victory, and I'm going to become a 'yes,'" Boswell said, before noting that he still would raise red flags about electric utility prices in the Midwest.

"To me, action is essential," Levin added.

Opponents also got a clearer picture of their side, with Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), Patrick Tiberi (R-Ohio) and Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) all publicly stating they will vote against the bill.

Republicans are seemingly eager to hold the vote, banking on the results to pay dividends at the polls in November 2010 -- win or lose.

"Mark my words," said Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). "The American people are going to remember this vote. This will be a defining moment and a defining vote in this Congress."

Democratic leaders said they are still optimistic they can win over a handful of GOP votes, and they have kept their focus on about 11 moderate Republicans who have expressed interest on the issue.

"As a lifelong, committed, environmental Republican, my counsel is to play it close to the vest, ask questions, demand answers and then in the final analysis do the right thing," said former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who has helped organize meetings between moderate GOP lawmakers and Pelosi.

The climate bill's supporters may not want to address the question, but lingering in the back of many a mind is what happens if the House cannot pass the legislation.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said a losing House vote does not bother him considering the Supreme Court has already granted U.S. EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

"I had Henry Waxman and others ask me, 'OK, so what if this fails?' And I say, 'If I was the president, Saturday morning, I'd hold a press conference or I'd use my radio address and say, climate change is a real problem. America must lead. My EPA has already begun promulgating rules. I'm now proposing that they adopt the schedule for reductions that was in this bill and do it in a regulatory matter," DeFazio said.

"Their argument to me is 'They'll get sued.' And I say, 'We did the Clean Water Act somehow.' We cleaned up our rivers without involving Wall Street and without saying, 'Gee, I'm going to pollute the Wilamette River in Oregon because I'm cleaning up the Amazon in Brazil.' We didn't do any of that and it worked great."

Carbon tariff deal

Rep. Levin of Michigan, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, said yesterday there is an agreement on language that allows U.S. tariffs on imports from China and other countries if they do not impose comparable emissions curbs.

"I think this will help push an international agreement on climate change as well as make sure we don't lose jobs in this country because another country decides to have an advantage over ours because they can pollute more," Levin said.

A major concern in the drafting of climate legislation is that U.S. industries would suffer a competitive disadvantage because they would face emissions cutting costs that overseas competitors in China and other countries may not. Lawmakers also want to avoid "carbon leakage," in which emitting industries will move to other countries to avoid the cost of U.S. requirements.

Levin said that beginning in 2020, if U.S. industries face these cost disadvantages due to differences in emissions policies, the tariffs will be imposed.

The deal differs from earlier international provisions in the bill approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee, giving Congress more authority over the issue. Levin said that under the agreement, if the president decides to waive the tariffs because it is in the national interest, Congress must approve of the waiver.

Two business groups -- the National Foreign Trade Council and U.S. Council for International Business -- warned that Congress is at risk of inviting international trade sanctions and other problems with the plan (E&E Daily, June 25)

Business, labor weigh in

As the vote looms, powerful interest groups continue to weigh in with promises they will be keeping score today.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reiterated its opposition in a letter to lawmakers yesterday that warned it would consider the votes in its annual scorecard. The group has donated to several lawmakers who, according to E&E's analysis, are fence-sitters on the climate bill.

The business group laid out several complaints in its letter, such as alleging the bill does too little to deploy renewable and alternative energy sources to help meet the declining emissions cap.

Similarly, the National Association of Manufacturers spelled out its opposition in a letter yesterday and said it may include the bill among its "key manufacturing votes" for the 111th Congress.

The National Farmers Union, meanwhile, reversed its previous opposition to the bill and called on lawmakers yesterday to support it, following a deal between Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Waxman this week on farm sector emissions offsets and other issues.

The Democratic-leaning farm group had been in favor of cap-and-trade climate legislation until they felt the Waxman-Markey proposal shut out farm interests. The farmers union was one of several agriculture groups that pressed House leadership to change the bill that came out of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the major agribusiness lobby, opposes the measure however, sending a letter to all House members yesterday claiming it imposes "enormous costs." But the group says Peterson's deal at least improves the measure and urged support for his amendment.

Peterson told reporters yesterday evening that more and more farm state Democrats are supporting the bill in the wake of his deal with Waxman.

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor organization, urged lawmakers to vote "yes" on the bill in its own letter yesterday, although the group has also expressed reservations about the measure. The group said the bill, "while not perfect," is an important first step toward curbing greenhouse emissions and reducing dependence on foreign energy.

"We believe the American Clean Energy and Security Act could be improved further. For example, we will work to strengthen its international competitiveness provisions," states a letter from William Samuel, a top lobbyist with the group. "Moreover, we believe the bill should not be sent to the White House for the president's signature until the Energy Information Administration has conducted a full analysis of its impact."

Correction: The climate and energy bill number is H.R. 2454.

Reporters Allison Winter, Josh Winter and Phil Taylor contributed.

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