Kerry Woos Skeptics of Climate Bill

Posted March 23, 2010 at 6:33pm

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is pushing ahead with a two-pronged lobbying offensive on climate change legislation, meeting this week with Democratic leadership and K Street stakeholders in a push for Senate action this year.

While climate change legislation had been considered all but dead this Congress, with Senate Democrats having little desire to take up another controversial issue after the bruising health care debate, the Massachusetts Democrat, along with Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), is aiming to introduce a bill as early as next month.

In preparation, Kerry has intensified his outreach, meeting with likely supporters including the Alliance for Climate Protection, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But Kerry also has been reaching out to K Street interests who are wary of climate change legislation, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers.

“Kerry’s trying to push ahead and potentially defuse what could be the biggest opposition,” said one climate policy advocate, who declined to be named. “He’s trying to be realistic and neutralize opposition and maybe even get support.”

Indeed, the top lobbyist for the chamber, Bruce Josten, said the Senators are being constructive. “The way they are trying to conform and shape this bill I would suggest is largely in sync with what most people in American industry think is the direction you are going to have to go if you are going to have a successful program,” Josten said.

So far, Kerry has provided scant details on the bill. He gave industry lobbyists an eight-page outline for the bill at a meeting last week, but they were asked to return the proposal before leaving. NAM spokeswoman Maureen Davenport said Kerry needs to provide more specifics. “We won’t know how any proposals will impact jobs or the economy until we have the details,” she said.

Kerry’s courting of industry raised concerns among some backers of climate change legislation.

Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen said Kerry’s approach is destined for failure.

“What’s clear is that they are focused almost entirely on an inside-the-Beltway strategy on building coalitions for this,” Slocum said. “That’s not the way you build grass-roots support for building climate change.”

But in the Senate, aides say the involvement of outside groups has helped grab the attention of Members who have been almost exclusively focused on health care reform. A bipartisan group gathered on the second floor of the Capitol on Tuesday to review a more detailed proposal for climate change legislation, which onlookers say would have to be introduced shortly after the spring recess in order to tee up floor action before summer.

“The Senators are right on schedule and have made substantial progress,” Lieberman spokeswoman Erika Masonhall said. “They have collaborated with stakeholders and Members on both sides of the aisle and are looking forward to sharing details of legislation that will attract bipartisan support.”

Lieberman emerged from a closed-door meeting with a small group of Members on Tuesday reporting that “people are engaged” on climate change.

Members attending the Tuesday afternoon meeting, which included moderate Democrats, Graham and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), were given a PowerPoint presentation on the proposal that the climate trio hopes to draft into legislative language by mid-April.

Still, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who attended the meeting, said he was unsure whether Democrats could strike a bipartisan deal on climate change this year.

“I think the wild card in all this is the willingness in the Senate to work together,” he said earlier Tuesday.

However, Carper said Democrats could continue building momentum for climate change by touting health care reform, another sweeping overhaul that eventually brought the party together.

“I’m surprised at how many people who never said a word about health care are coming up to me saying, ‘Keep it up.’ That’s encouraging,” he said.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) agreed, saying the Democrats’ win on health care “shows when we put our mind to something, we can tackle it and get it done.”

Boxer worked with Kerry in the fall to push a more partisan climate change proposal that emerged from her committee without a single Republican vote or the support of Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), whose panel has jurisdiction over cap-and-trade. This time around, Kerry has taken a more centrist approach and tried to define energy reform as a bipartisan effort that holds benefits for both the environment and the economy.

“There is a little bit of jockeying of what’s going to be next” on the floor, a Democratic aide said, adding that the involvement of business groups “doesn’t change the timing for climate as much as it helps get people on board.”