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Democratic Energy Builds for Energy Bill

President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) say that this time they are committed, really committed, to bringing some sort of clean energy bill to the floor this year.

But after months of speed bumps, false starts and promises, some are wondering, can they really get something done?

The new Democratic strategy seems clear enough: try to capitalize on the unprecedented oil spill disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico to jump-start the bill and put Republicans on the defensive. Democrats hope to either tar Republicans as tools of Big Oil as the slick continues to spread, or have another signature accomplishment knocked off Obama’s to-do list to go along with health care reform and a Wall Street overhaul.

With the political fallout over the BP oil spill growing by the day, the president has injected a new sense of urgency into passing energy legislation in 2010. Obama has framed the disaster as a “wake-up call” on the need for action on climate change, and during a Carnegie Mellon speech last week, he significantly upped the ante by vowing to become more personally involved in helping to pass legislation this year.

“The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months. I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can. I will work with anyone to get this done — and we will get it done,” Obama said.

White House officials readily admit they are trying to channel the outrage over the Gulf spill into momentum for energy reform. “I think it adds to the urgency of getting something done on energy,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week.

And even though the current Senate proposal lacks GOP support, Reid is preparing to press ahead anyway: On Thursday, he called on his committee chairmen to develop recommendations for climate change legislation that he hopes to bring up “later this summer.” Reid’s letter, however, did not mention the word “climate,” calling it a “clean energy” bill instead.

A White House aide confirmed the expedited timeline for moving the climate change bill, saying it is next in line after the House and Senate complete work on Wall Street reform in early July.

“We don’t have the votes yet, but we intend to work with Leader Reid and Senators Kerry and Lieberman to find them,” the aide said.

A Senate Democratic aide working on the climate overhaul said Obama’s ratcheting up of comments, along with Reid’s new push to get a bill to the floor, have given the issue fresh momentum.

“He’s really doubling down on this,” the aide said of Obama. “His statements have gone from ‘We need to get this done’ to ‘We need to get this done this year’ to ‘We need to get this done now and I’m going to get the votes for it.’”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has put together a broad package with Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), met before the Memorial Day recess with White House liaison Phil Schiliro to map out a strategy, the Senate aide said.

“We think that they are really committed, and we think this is the real deal.”

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