Despite nervousness from some conservative Democrats about moving quickly on legislation capping carbon emissions, Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that he’s sticking to his aggressive timeline of voting the bill out of committee by Memorial Day and wants it on the House floor before the August recess.
The success of that effort could depend on negotiations in the next few days among Waxman, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a key coal-state lawmaker and former subcommittee chairman, and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), chairman of the Blue Dog Energy Task Force.
Matheson has questioned whether the committee is moving ahead too quickly; Waxman said he would meet with him in the coming days.
Boucher, meanwhile, plans to propose a comprehensive amendment Thursday to the Waxman-Markey draft bill that he said will address the concerns of industry as well as those of more conservative Democrats who often represent areas with major coal and industrial interests.
“I have been consulting broadly with industry and other Democrats,— Boucher said, adding that he hopes his amendment, if accepted, would quickly generate a consensus for the bill among Democrats. No Republicans are expected to support it.
Boucher called Waxman’s timeline “achievable— but said that would depend on whether an agreement could be quickly reached on issues including how to allocate credits to existing industries, the schedule for reducing carbon emissions and flexibility in meeting renewable electricity requirements.
Boucher declined to discuss the specifics of his proposal before meeting with Waxman.
Other Democrats said they are still trying to tweak the proposal to soften the blows to industries in their states and minimize costs to consumers.
“The guts of this bill are still being written,— said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a member of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment who hails from steel country.
But Doyle said Democrats on the committee are trying to find a way to vote for the legislation and said there are no issues that are insurmountable.
“All of us want to get to yes,— he said. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to vote for this bill on the Democratic side.—
Waxman and Markey will hold four days of hearings this week, and Markey is scheduled to start marking up the bill in his subcommittee next week.
Waxman continued to highlight support from major corporations — including executives from utilities and oil companies who are members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership — for moving a bill. “They all said that they wanted legislation now to set the ground rules in place so they know how to make their investments for the future,— Waxman said.
But even if Waxman gets a bill through his committee, merging his plan with one being written by the Ways and Means Committee could prove a tall order; both committees are trying to control how money raised by the bill will be spent, with the revenue expected in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Several Ways and Means members, including Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), also prefer a flat-out carbon tax to a cap-and-trade scheme.
Larson said there are still concerns in the Caucus about how to communicate the energy bill to the public.
“People haven’t gotten their arms around it,— Larson said, noting that Members going back to their districts are hearing from the public about the economy first and foremost.
“Their focus is on the economy, as much as they care about ... polar bears,— Larson said of the public.
Larson said Democrats can generate broad public support by stressing the green jobs such a plan would create, by promoting the patriotic and national security benefits of promoting energy independence, and by returning some of the revenue to taxpayers.
But Larson said he thinks the health care issue has more momentum right now than energy given the economic concerns as millions of people lose their health insurance.
Waxman said he expects to mark up a health care overhaul in June. He said he doesn’t care which one comes to the House floor first — health care or energy — “as long as they are both before the August recess.—
Waxman said that getting both bills through the House would be important to tee up negotiations with the Senate this fall.