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Road Map: Climate Change Will Be Senate’s Next Battle Royal

Climate change is the ticking political time bomb on the Senate’s agenda this fall, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has the timer set to go off in late September.

With the debate on health care sucking up so much oxygen in the Senate these days, few are paying attention to the cavernous gulf among Democrats over how to tackle global warming and the lack — so far — of a way to bring Members together while also appealing to Republicans.

“It will blow up,” one senior Democrat said.

With Democrats from the South, Midwest, Plains and Mountain West deeply skeptical of creating a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, Senate Democrats could be even more split than they are on health care reform once the chamber actually begins to seriously focus on the issue.

“There’s a lot of opposition to climate change in the Senate,” said a senior

Senate Democratic aide. “You’re going to have to turn a lot of Democrats to get a bill.”

Still, Senate Democratic leaders are trying to give climate change legislation a real chance this year by holding weekly meetings with the chairmen of the six committees of jurisdiction as well as sessions with industry and activist groups on a weekly basis.

“We’re still trying to figure out the process — who’s going to be where and who cares about what,” explained one aide familiar with the talks.

So far, only the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has completed its bill — and some Democratic detractors have been pushing to separate the energy measure from the highly controversial proposal to create a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon dioxide emissions. While Environment and Public Works and Finance have the most jurisdiction, the Energy; Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Foreign Relations; and Commerce, Science and Transportation panels also have a claim to it.

Sensing the need for more time — and possibly recognizing that the health care debate would be delayed deep into September — Reid recently gave his blessing to let the other panels postpone their markups until after the August recess. Reid’s original Sept. 18 deadline for a completed bill was pushing committees, such as EPW, to consider legislation this month instead. Now the deadline for a completed measure is Sept. 28, and EPW Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has said she would postpone her markup until September.

Another Senate Democratic aide said Reid’s decision to push off the debate came after Members requested time to float climate change proposals to constituents over the August recess.

Still, Democrats said the bare majority that House leaders eked out for their bill last month has many worried about the ability of Senate Democrats to cobble together the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster.

“If they had a close vote in the House, it makes it more difficult in the Senate to get us to 60 votes,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), whose vote Democratic leaders will have to court.

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