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Kerry Sparks Fight on Climate

In an already challenging election year for the majority, Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) rush to pass a climate change bill has many Democrats scratching their heads and charging that their 2004 presidential nominee could further imperil vulnerable Members this fall.

Climate change had been considered all but dead this year, and Senate Democrats have little appetite to take up the controversial issue after the beating that they have endured over their as-yet-unfinished health care reform efforts.

“The United States Senate is not going to transition from doing health care to a [global warming] bill,” one Democratic Senator said. “It’s not going to happen.”

But that’s not what Kerry believes. He said last week that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is “determined to bring it to the floor.”

The divide in the Democratic caucus reared its head last Wednesday when Kerry — who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee — gave a presentation to his fellow chairmen on his progress in drafting a new bill with Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Sources familiar with the meeting said Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) and Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) challenged Kerry, who asserted that his new bill should be done this year because it would be bipartisan and would allow Democrats to get around having to tackle the controversial cap-and-trade issue.

Dorgan was upset that the so-far failed efforts of Kerry and Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to craft a bipartisan global warming bill were needlessly delaying action on a separate, bipartisan measure that includes many “green energy” initiatives that Kerry and Boxer want to attach to a climate bill. Bingaman, who wants to move on climate change, was more concerned that a failure to do a broader global warming bill would prevent the Senate from passing the targeted energy bill separately. The committee approved that narrower measure last year.

“While [Bingaman] certainly would like to see the committee-reported bill ... become law, he’s not among those urging Sen. Reid to take up and pass an energy-only bill,” Bingaman spokesman Bill Wicker said. “Bingaman remains open to any climate proposal that is workable, can gain the necessary level of bipartisan support, become law and lower U.S. carbon emissions.”

Kerry and Dorgan, as well as Wicker, declined to discuss the private dust-up.

Though Kerry has argued he has new momentum for a global warming bill given his collaboration with Lieberman and Graham — Kerry previously co-authored the bill that passed Boxer’s committee last fall — Democrats of all stripes said the political risks of taking up such an explosive issue are too great.

“It is laughable if Kerry and Boxer think Senate Republicans are going to pass a major environmental bill and have [President Barack] Obama sign it right before the midterm elections,” one Senate Democratic source said. “They make Don Quixote look like a realist.”

Indeed, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said doing climate change would “absolutely” be a gift to the GOP in an election year in which they already feel they are riding a tide of angry voter sentiment against Democrats.

“It would be, I think, further gasoline on the fire,” he said.

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