House Democratic leaders enter today's scheduled floor vote on climate change legislation confident they will have enough backing, although there is still uncertainty in their Caucus that they might fall short.
By midafternoon Thursday, House Speaker Pelosi was advising some Democrats that she was nearing the needed 218 votes. "Nancy says we're just eight votes away," said one Western Democrat who supports the bill, after talking with Pelosi.
Energy and Commerce Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Democratic leaders were working to get the few remaining votes. "And we will, in my opinion, have the votes tomorrow," Markey said Thursday. Markey spoke while on his way to the annual White House congressional picnic, which cut short debate late afternoon Thursday on the Interior-Environment appropriations bill that needs to wrap up before the climate debate can start.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., a deputy whip on the bill, said Democratic leaders were on the brink of a majority. "I think right now we're right at the 218 mark," Butterfield said, noting they were "a little short" Thursday morning. "I have discerned some movement in the last two hours" as undecided lawmakers "realize that a decision has to be made," Butterfield said.
President Obama called many undecided lawmakers Thursday, and according to one Democratic lawmaker, met with at least a couple of second-term Democrats at the White House.
Seven sophomore Democrats met with White House Chief of Staff Emanuel and three of them who proclaimed to Emanuel they were still on the fence -- Reps. Steve Kagen of Wisconsin, and Indiana's Baron Hill and Joe Donnelly -- got tapped on the shoulder to meet privately with Obama, according to one lawmaker.
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Reps. Ron Klein, D-Fla., Tim Walz, D-Minn., Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, were at that meeting with Emanuel, which eventually turned mostly to a discussion over health care among those with decided positions on the climate bill, one lawmaker said.
But as of Thursday afternoon there still remained some other holdouts on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, said he remained undecided, despite being contacted by both White House climate czar Carol Browner and Emanuel. "I don't know if there is any one particular thing," said Boyd, of his uncertainty. But he said he needed more time to study the bill, and its real impact on the "daily lives" of his constituents.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur and other Ohio Democrats might need to have language in the bill pushed by a broader coalition of Great Lakes regional lawmakers that would create a regional power marketing authority there along the lines of the Bonneville Power Administration in the West and the Tennessee Valley Authority in the Southeast. The reason, Kaptur said, is "regional equality," pointing to $6.5 billion in borrowing authority for transmission lines and renewable power in Western states in the stimulus bill signed into law this year. "That is an unsustainable inequality," Kaptur said.
She and other members of the Ohio Democratic delegation and Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., met Wednesday with Pelosi and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman about that idea and have been promised at a minimum that discussions will continue after the House votes on the bill. She said she might oppose the House bill unless the plan is included.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said he wants to vote for the bill, "but I am trying to deal with my local utility, [which] is mounting a very aggressive campaign against the bill." That utility, Louisville Gas and Electric Company, "just sent a mailer out to all my constituents saying that if we pass this bill, their rates would go up 40 to 80 percent."
Several moderate Republicans -- including Reps. Tim Johnson of Illinois and Vernon Ehlers of Michigan -- said they were still undecided.
Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson -- whose recent deal with Waxman gave Democratic leaders renewed hope of passing a bill this week -- said he believes up to about 15 of 28 Democrats on his panel will vote for it. "I've done what I can," he said, indicating he thinks rural Democrats have pretty much made up their minds.
Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin, D-Mich., said he, Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel and most of the panel's Democrats are on board after they added language authorizing possible tariffs against countries that do not reduce their carbon emissions to protect certain U.S. manufacturing industries. Levin said this language will be crucial to picking up some votes because "one of its selling points is that it's a jobs bill, that it will help us compete." (See related story, page 17.)
Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., is one Ways and Means Democrat who will vote "no." He thinks the bill has greatly improved of late but that the timing is still wrong. "There's no public outcry to pass this legislation. It's an institutional push," Davis said. Davis said he expects most of his fellow Congressional Black Caucus colleagues to vote for the bill.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., is another Ways and Means Democrat that will vote "no" because the emission reduction targets are too strong. "I'm here to represent North Dakota and we only have one guy: me," he said. "I know how badly the speaker wants this bill, but I have a job to do."
On the opposite end of the Caucus, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said he is voting against the bill because it is not aggressive enough. "There's no such thing as clean coal," Kucinich said. "The clean coal right now is still coal stuck in the ground." He offered eight amendments for the Rules Committee, which at presstime had not announced what amendments would be allowed to the bill on the floor. The panel considered a record 224 amendments, only six of them bipartisan.
A manager's amendment includes language from Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., that would place major restrictions on over-the-counter derivatives market, specifically on energy transactions. OTC trades are conducted between parties with little oversight or transparency -- as opposed to those traded on exchanges and clearinghouses. But under an agreement between Peterson and House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, the language would be repealed after passage of legislation that would revamp the nation's financial regulatory system. The two are working on the bill to overhaul the entire OTC market and do not want to do it in a piecemeal fashion.
And over in the Senate, Majority Leader Reid Thursday said committee chairmen have agreed on a timeline for wrapping up their work on a cap-and-trade bill but did not specify a date. "This fall, we're going to have a bill in the Senate and we're going to vote on it," Reid said. Sources have said Reid set a deadline for committee chairs to finish their portions of the bill by Sept. 18, with floor debate likely in October.
This article appears in the June 27, 2009, edition of NJ Daily.