After Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) unseated Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) atop the Energy and Commerce Committee last year, conservative Democrats worried that Waxman and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would try to ram through a politically toxic climate change bill.
But this week, Waxman and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) showed a pragmatic streak that appears close to lining up support from nearly all the panels Democratic members.
The pair announced Tuesday night that they had compromised with party moderates to reach a breakthrough on the most difficult issues facing the bill and planned to unveil the text today.
Final details were still being negotiated Wednesday night, and Waxman and Markey met multiple times with Texas Democratic Reps. Gene Green and Charlie Gonzalez to try to cut a deal on limiting the effect on the oil refining industry.
Im feeling pretty good right now, Markey said Wednesday afternoon. Its down on the 10-yard line.
To be sure, the political calculus for the legislation remains dicey, with action in the Senate uncertain and Republicans unified in opposition.
But the deal appears to have substantially improved chances for quick House action that backers hope will prompt the Senate to act.
Everybody thought health care was going to happen and energy was just going to sit there, a Democratic leadership aide said. I think they did what was necessary to earn the trust and respect of the Caucus, and thats a major accomplishment considering the diversity and regional differences.
Markey said the critics and doubters on the outside werent aware of the progress being made behind the scenes in recent months.
Those who were predicting the demise of the bill never understood the dynamic inside our committee, Markey said. Every Democratic member of the committee is committed to bringing clean energy jobs to their district. ... All of the Members wanted to get to yes.
Markey predicted that most, if not all, of the Democrats on the committee will sign onto the bill and ultimately be the ambassadors to the rest of the Democratic Caucus as they push to bring it to a House vote this summer.
Waxman and Markey had one thing going for them from the start strong support from a large coalition of corporations that often oppose environmental legislation, including several major oil companies and utilities.
When Edison Electric Institutes CEO endorsed the bill, when three of the largest oil companies support the bill, when the second-largest coal company supports the bill, when [General Electric] and dozens of Fortune 100 companies endorse the bill, that will be the answer to the critics who say it will hurt the economy, Markey said.
The hardest thing was to convince people that we could do it, because thats the beginning of real discussions, Markey said. There were so many people of the opinion that nothing was going to happen until they came into our process. ... We had to dispel conventional wisdom.
Polling results presented to Democrats on Tuesday night showing strong public support for clean energy legislation that reduces dependence on imported oil also helps the bills chances, Markey said.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.