Obama to give Senate bill a push with MIT speech

President Obama will try to push the Senate climate bill forward Friday with an energy-themed speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, just days before the start of a marathon series of hearings featuring testimony from top administration officials.

The White House said Obama's remarks covering "American leadership in clean energy" will dovetail with the Senate's effort to place a first-ever economywide cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama largely stayed out of the spotlight during the House debate earlier this year, but many Democrats and environmentalists say the president must be more active in lobbying the Senate if leaders are to find the 60 votes necessary for the measure's passage.

"A lot of what happens in the end will depend on how hard the president wants to push one of his top priorities," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said last week. "If it's lightweight interaction, I think it has problems."


Obama's speech in Cambridge, Mass., comes the same day that U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson plans to release the agency's economic and environmental analysis of the climate bill (S. 1733) from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

With the EPA analysis in hand, Boxer is set to begin a three-day series of hearings in her Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 27, with testimony from Kerry, Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.

Eight other witness panels are also on the agenda for the EPW Committee hearings, which aides say will cover a variety of themes similar to sessions the committee held earlier this year on the economic implications of "clean energy" legislation, national security and transportation.

Boxer is planning to release a chairman's mark as early as next week that revises several items in the Kerry-Boxer measure. The most sought-after sections deal with how Boxer plans to distribute the cap-and-trade program's valuable emission allocations.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said the newest version of the Senate bill would not be identical to the House-passed bill. "There's no question there are differences," he said.

Cardin also insisted that the latest draft has been written with help from all of the EPW Committee's Democrats, including coal-state Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

"As a section gets closed, there's agreement among all of the participants that we're OK at this stage," Cardin explained. "That doesn't mean we're OK overall, but I think the sections have been pretty well negotiated and all of the Democrats on the committee are satisfied that it's been done right."

Cardin declined to say which areas are finished in the closed-door negotiations.

For his part, Specter would not say yesterday how he planned to vote on the climate bill as it comes up for debate in the EPW Committee. "Let me see what it looks like," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do."

Markup by Thanksgiving ... maybe

As for a markup, Boxer last week said she wanted to move the climate bill out of her committee during the first two weeks of November but did not want to be pinned down to a specific date. Senate Democratic leaders have since designated Nov. 11-13 as a recess for Veterans' Day, further shrinking Boxer's already small window just to move the bill next month.

"I think if Senator Boxer has her way, it'll be marked up before Thanksgiving," Cardin said. But he quickly added that Democratic leaders and other Senate committee chairmen could still scuttle that markup schedule as they deal with other pressing issues, including the ongoing effort to pass health care reform legislation on the floor.

The EPW Committee is responsible for the opening round of the climate debate, but its role beyond that remains unclear. Five other committees are also expected to weigh in, and Kerry and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have begun bipartisan talks aimed at finding agreement on everything from cost containment to offshore oil drilling and nuclear power.

"EPW needs to do its work," Cardin said. "We're the environment committee. We need to do our work. We need to put out the best possible recommendation to the full Senate. There are other committees. Then there's clearly going to have to be negotiations as this bill goes to the Senate floor. I fully understand that."

Partisan tensions also continue to boil on the Boxer-led committee.

EPW Committe ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) issued a statement yesterday with Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) that raised a pre-emptive challenge to the quality of EPA's analysis on the climate bill.

"EPA needs to do a series of model runs examining key provisions in the bill, with a number of sensitivity analyses on critical issues, including, among others, the availability of offsets, potential growth in nuclear power, and the extent of emissions reductions by developing countries," the senators said. "Anything less than a full analysis of this kind will be unacceptable. Without such analysis, the 'legislative' hearings scheduled for next week will not be deserving of the name."

Inhofe said yesterday that he also remains at odds with Boxer over how many minority witnesses should be invited to next week's hearings. "I'm trying to have them treat us the same way I treated them when we were in the majority," he said. Inhofe did not say how many witnesses he wants to collect testimony from.

Last night, an EPW Committee aide said that both sides reached a written agreement on the number of witnesses that is reflective of the Democrats' 60-40 majority.

Inhofe last week said Boxer should have little trouble moving the climate bill through the EPW Committee given the Democrats' 12-7 majority. "It will be all theater," he said.

And Voinovich said Democratic sponsors have not reached out to him to negotiate on the legislation. "I think Senator Kerry and Senator Boxer are trying to get the most aggressive bill they can get out of the Senate EPW Committee," he said. "As a result of that, I don't think that they are as interested in negotiating as they might ordinarily."

Voinovich added that he expects Democrats to press for more bipartisan talks early next year once leaders start counting votes and after the conclusion of a major U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

"If they understand they can't get cloture on what comes out of committee, I think we'd be more likely to get really serious after we get back after Copenhagen," he said. "And at that stage of the game, we'll have much more clarity where everyone's going."

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