Pelosi Flexes Muscle

Speaker Uses Her Capital to Pass Climate Bill

Posted June 23, 2009 at 6:33pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has shown repeatedly that she can rally her troops on tough votes, but she faces her toughest test yet this week in passing her signature cap-and-trade energy package.

Pelosi laid down the gauntlet late Monday, announcing plans to bring the 1,200-plus-page bill to the floor on Friday. While at the time she didn’t have a deal to secure its passage, she appeared to have one Tuesday evening when aides said an agreement had been struck between Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who was leading a key bloc of moderate opponents.

Indeed, Pelosi is pushing the climate change measure full tilt, and enormous pressure is already building for rank-and-file Democrats to fall into line.

“People may not like it, but it’s very tough to bet against the Speaker,— said one Democratic strategist.

A whipping operation has been under way since the bill passed the Energy and Commerce Committee in May. Since then, panel Democrats have held a series of meetings with various intraparty caucuses to build support, and administration officials including climate change czar Carol Browner met with senior Democratic whips to reassure them on the bill.

That lobbying effort has now kicked into higher gear, according to Democratic aides and lobbyists, with the White House and Democratic leadership launching a full-court press to bring one of President Barack Obama’s top two legislative initiatives across the finish line.

As part of that, Waxman met behind closed doors to negotiate the agreement with Peterson, the leader of a group of rural Democrats who had been threatening to vote against the bill. Leadership also planned to reach out to conservative Blue Dog Democrats later in the evening.

Last week, Waxman and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) pitched the package to liberals gathered for the weekly huddle of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. And Pelosi brought Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) — a moderate who was initially skeptical of the measure but was won over by concessions to the steel industry and provisions to limit electricity rate hikes — to address her weekly meeting with the freshman class.

The White House also is stepping up its involvement after putting most of its emphasis in recent weeks on health care.

Cabinet secretaries, senior White House officials and Obama himself are expected to work the phones hunting for votes.

“They’re going into fifth gear on this,— one senior Democratic aide said of the administration’s effort.

Obama brought up the issue at a Tuesday press conference.

“This legislation will spark a clean energy transformation that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet,— the president said, going on to describe the measure as a jobs bill and urging lawmakers to support it. Obama even gave a strategic shout-out to Peterson, praising him for trying to reach agreement even though he hadn’t yet officially signed onto it. Final language on the deal reached Tuesday night was expected to emerge today.

The White House legislative affairs team, led by former Waxman Chief of Staff Phil Schiliro, also is circulating talking points calculated to reassure skittish Democratic lawmakers.

The bill will “create millions of good, new jobs,— according to the memo, and enjoys “broad consensus … from environmental advocates to energy producers, from the business community to the labor community.—

The talking points argue that the measure will give rural communities “a huge opportunity— to cash in by planting wind turbines alongside crops and taking advantage of incentives to produce biofuels. And, the administration contends, the bill will “protect vulnerable industries and communities without sacrificing the basic goal of a new clean energy economy.—

Senior Democratic aides said the key to success will be convincing Peterson to sell the package to his allies.

“It’s not enough for him to hold his nose and support it,— one said.

Beyond the rural Democrats, however, it remains unclear how many moderate Republicans might come aboard. Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) already supports the bill, but Republicans such as Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.) want to see items like offshore oil drilling and additional nuclear provisions added.

Pelosi met with the GOP moderates last week and is expected to meet with them again this week, although Democrats don’t want to have to rely on their votes for final passage.

Meanwhile, a Congressional Budget Office estimate showing the bill would cost $170 per household in the year 2020 — about one-twentieth what Republicans contended the bill would cost — also was providing wind at Pelosi’s back, with a leadership aide calling it “huge for us.— A new Environmental Protection Agency study Tuesday also bolstered Democrats, contending the bill would spur massive investments in clean energy technology.

Obama has also dispatched Cabinet members around the country to gin up enthusiasm at the local level.

On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar held an event in Atlantic City, N.J., while Council of Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley was in Charlottesville, Va., Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Oklahoma City, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson appeared in Denver.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke will stage an appearance in Auburn Hills, Mich., today, while Labor Secretary Hilda Solis will hold two events in Memphis, Tenn., and one in West Memphis, Ark. On Thursday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan will speak at the Green Building and Energy Efficient Development Conference in Washington, D.C., while Energy Secretary Steven Chu will appear in San Francisco.

Environmental groups that back the bill are also pulling out all the stops. The League of Conservation Voters said that in an unprecedented move for the organization, they “will not endorse any Member of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election cycle who votes against final passage of this historic bill.—

House Republicans, meanwhile, have kept up their drumbeat against the climate change package, with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) saying they are “adamantly opposed to a national energy tax— that he said would force manufacturers including a steel plant in his district to close.

“We are going to make sure every Member knows that a vote for cap-and-tax is a vote to destroy jobs and tax every family in America,— said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Boehner sent out a memo from his political arm calling the bill a jobs-killer. “Democrats who vote for it do so at their own peril,— he said.

Keith Koffler contributed to this report.