Pelosi takes reins on climate change

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has quickly taken charge of moving climate change legislation through the House, which will be one of the toughest challenges of her political career.

Earlier this year, Pelosi said she was not involved in the day-to-day happenings on the controversial bill. But now that it has cleared the Energy and Commerce Committee, Pelosi is on a mission to get the climate change bill — her flagship issue — to the House floor.

Pelosi told reporters Tuesday afternoon that she had just held meetings with Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and informed them that their panels would be allowed to have markups on the cap-and-trade bill crafted by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

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An additional six committees that have at least some jurisdiction over the bill apparently decided — or were told — that they did not need to hold their own markups.

Despite the masterful deal-making demonstrated last month by Waxman and Markey, Pelosi still finds her signature-issue bill stymied by the wants of other chairmen. With most Republicans expected to vote against the Waxman/Markey bill and some conservative Democrats expected to reject it as well, Pelosi needs every vote she can get.

Asked on Tuesday if she was still hoping for “quick” action on the cap-and-trade measure, Pelosi responded: “I don’t know what quick means.”

Democratic leaders are hoping to get the bill to the floor by the August recess. Achieving that goal will be extremely difficult, especially during an economic downturn and with gas prices on the rise. It is arguably the most difficult test of Pelosi’s 22-year career in the lower chamber.

No details were provided on the timing or substance of the two added markups, but the reality of now having to wait for two more chairmen to weigh in — and perhaps significantly alter the political balance of the bill — was apparent. Yet, it is unlikely that Pelosi will wait long for Rangel and Peterson to act. Pelosi has shown in her speakership that she is adept at handling her committee chairmen.

For his part, Rangel’s need to dig into the provisions of the bill that draw in revenue from the auctioning of carbon permits is less problematic to the bill as a whole than it is to how quickly he will take action.

Rangel has repeatedly said that his — and his committee’s — top priority is healthcare.

Privately, leadership aides have said that House leaders are still discussing whether energy should still be brought to the floor first. The healthcare legislation that House Democratic leaders will pursue this year has not yet been introduced. Meanwhile, the Senate has already scheduled panel markups on healthcare reform though the upper chamber bill has not been unveiled.

As Waxman and Markey were neck-deep in their four-day marathon markup last month, Rangel told reporters that — regardless of what the Energy and Commerce Committee wanted — his consideration of climate change was going to have to wait until he was finished with his work on healthcare.

Peterson has no such competing top priorities, but he and the other 27 Democrats on his panel have serious problems with provisions in the bill — some of which his committee doesn’t even have jurisdiction over. Peterson has warned the measure will need to be significantly revamped if Democratic leaders are looking to attract even one Democratic vote on his committee.

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In the wake of the concerns raised by Peterson and Rangel, Pelosi has said she has no firm timetable, other than passing the bill in 2009.

“We don’t have a deadline, but everybody knows that we want to have legislation moving because, again, we want to be ready for Copenhagen,” Pelosi said on Tuesday, referring to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which begins in early December.

It was as recently as the week before the Memorial Day recess that House leaders were mentioning having the climate change bill on the floor in July or even June. On Tuesday, neither Pelosi nor Markey — who joined her in China and at her press conference — mentioned anything but “timely” consideration of the bill.

Climate change is a higher priority for Pelosi than President Obama, who said last week, “This window between now and the August recess, I think, is going to be the make-or-break period [for healthcare]… This is the time where we have got to get this done.”

During that speech, he made no reference to climate change.

Pelosi is undeterred.

“I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to move forward in a timely fashion so that our legislation will pass the House and send a clear message about Copenhagen,” Pelosi said on Tuesday. “But I’m not putting any deadline on it. We will go to the floor when we are ready. They will pass bills out of their committees when they are ready.”

Leaving Pelosi’s press conference, Markey was asked if the president needs to be more vocal in urging Congress to pass a climate change bill.

“The president has been unrelenting in his support of climate change legislation moving — as he has been on healthcare,” Markey responded. “These are priorities 1 and 1A for both the Speaker and the president.”

Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were scheduled to meet with Obama at the White House on Tuesday afternoon. It was unclear at press time what they discussed.