March 5, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Kerry Still Working the Room for Climate Bill

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. John Kerry (right) and his partner in climate change legislation, Sen. Joe Lieberman, are having a tough time gaining traction for their proposal to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. Their colleagues blame the political environment.

When Sen. John Kerry began his plea for a climate change bill at a closed-door meeting of his fellow Democrats on Thursday, he started with an apology for being so dogged about getting sweeping legislation done this year.

“I know you feel like this is the only thing I talk to you about,” the Massachusetts Democrat said, according to a person present. But he went on to say how “passionately” he feels about the issue and how this is the right time and year for the party to take on the politically dicey issue.

Kerry was only half-joking about being a broken record when it comes to climate change legislation. His office estimates that over the past year he has had 292 meetings and phone calls with more than 50 Senators, including hourlong talks with 44 Democrats and eight Republicans.

The problem for Kerry is all that work may be for naught if he can’t persuade a handful of Republicans and as many as 10 to 15 fellow Democrats to take a leap of faith on the issue.

“I think it’s hard to get 60 votes on a climate change bill. My sense is it’s easier to get there on just a straight energy bill,” Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said of the need for a filibuster-proof vote. “But I appreciate all these Senators working so hard on trying to put legislation together, and I’m committed to at least listen and look at every proposal that is offered. But I think it’s hard to get 60 votes in this environment.”

The proposal by Kerry and his legislative partner, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), would put a price on greenhouse gas emissions but allow different industries to be subject to different reduction targets.

“Climate change is in trouble for a variety of reasons,” one knowledgeable Senate Democratic aide said. “The proximity of the election is having a majorly negative impact on our ability to get a climate bill through the Senate. The health care bill also scared people, and I’m not sure the oil spill is actually galvanizing people. When people see oil in the water, they don’t think of wind farms. All of those things are a factor.”

Kerry and Lieberman’s ace in the hole — the support of Sen. Lindsey Graham — evaporated as election-year pressures came to bear. In late April, the South Carolina Republican pulled out of talks not because he disagreed with the direction of the bill, but because Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had said he wanted to bring up an immigration bill this year.

Graham said Reid’s decision smacked of election-year politics, while Democrats accused Graham of finding a convenient excuse to extricate himself from an issue his GOP colleagues were not rallying behind.

Kerry has kept up an optimistic view — and his hope that his colleagues will press Reid to take up his measure — but he is largely competing against forces in the caucus that want to sidestep the larger climate debate and do a smaller, energy-only bill sponsored by Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). Many Democrats also want to respond to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with legislation.

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