Speaker issues ultimatum on climate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday issued an ultimatum to her committee chairmen: move climate change legislation by June 19 or risk losing jurisdiction over the bill.

By imposing the deadline, Pelosi (D-Calif.) is asserting her authority over Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), among others, in an effort to unhinge her signature issue, which has been mired in intra-party politics.

The bill was approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee before the Memorial Day recess and was initially intended for a subsequent floor vote. But Rangel and Peterson objected, and Peterson even threatened to take down the bill if his committee didn’t have a chance to mark it up or have provisions in it significantly altered.

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On Wednesday, Rangel said his committee would hit Pelosi’s target. But he expressed frustration with the timeline.

“We have no idea what we want to do [on climate change] and how long it will take,” Rangel said. “And I still say healthcare is my priority.”

Peterson said he was also made aware of the deadline, but added he is “nowhere near” scheduling a markup. Before the recess, he claimed to have 40 to 45 votes lined up against the bill if he doesn’t get a crack at it.

But Peterson this week seemed to back off his threats.

“We’re not trying to stop this bill,” he said Wednesday. “We’re trying to make it workable.”

A leadership aide confirmed that Pelosi did, in fact, place the June 19 date at the end of the bill’s referral period.

“This is to keep the whole process moving,” the aide explained.

At the start of the day, Democratic House leaders seemed poised to place the fate of the bill, at least in terms of scheduling, in the hands of the two additional chairmen who have been given the right to have markups.

And, aside from expressing their desire to have the bill passed by the full House before the August break, those leaders issued no firm deadlines for moving the legislation out of their committees.

“To some degree, the scheduling of these bills will be dictated by the progress made in committees on these two pieces of legislation,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday morning, referring to the climate change bill and the healthcare overhaul.

“The Speaker has had meetings with the various chairs indicating that we would like to move ahead and in the next few weeks with whatever consideration they think is necessary of the bills,” Hoyer continued. “The president is very focused on trying to accomplish [climate change and healthcare legislation] prior to the August break. Our target is doing both of those issues prior to the August break.”

By the end of the day, the two chairmen said they had been informed that they had two weeks to complete their work or risk surrendering their jurisdiction.

Rangel appeared somewhat unnerved by the directive.

Asked if he picked that deadline, Rangel shot back to a reporter: “Hell, no.

“It didn’t come to me, it came down through staff,” Rangel said. “I imagine it came down through the Speaker.”

During the last series of votes on Wednesday, Rangel and Peterson spent a good deal of time sitting near the center aisle of the chamber, enjoying a friendly conversation.

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After having a 45-minute discussion with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday morning, Peterson said he still has a long list of provisions in Waxman’s bill that are troubling to him and his Agriculture Committee Democrats.

“Our staffs are working down the list,” Peterson said. “We have to get through this list and see what we can get resolved before looking at a markup.”

Peterson said he had a “good” meeting with Waxman. Waxman said he was “optimistic” about continued negotiations.

“We’re going to try to work out some of the concerns [Peterson], Mr. Rangel and other may have on this legislation,” Waxman said.

Although Peterson and Rangel have been the most vocal in expressing their need to dig into the particulars of the climate change bill, it remains a possibility that any one of six additional committees will hold their own — far less controversial — markups of Waxman’s bill.

Given that, Waxman embraced the June 19 deadline for committee work on the legislation.

“My recommendation would be [to have the bill on the floor] by the end of June,” he said. “We have to deal with healthcare in July.

“I think we’d be better off doing one before the other,” Waxman added.