Dem mutiny on climate bill grows, says Peterson

More and more Democrats are ready to vote against Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s climate change bill, according to a congressional committee chairman who opposes his leader.

The House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said Wednesday that he’s at an impasse with the lead sponsor of a climate change bill strongly backed by Pelosi (D-Calif.), and that his list of Democratic members who would join him in voting against the measure is growing rather than shrinking.

ADVERTISEMENT
“We’re stuck,” Peterson said regarding a clash he’s had with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) over a number of issues in the bill. “And there’s a lot of issues that haven’t even come up yet.”

The two powerful chairmen are butting heads at the staff level, despite a deadline set by Pelosi for all committee action to be completed by June 19.

But that may be the least of the trouble.

Peterson has warned that the bill put together by Waxman and Energy and Environment subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) will fail if agriculture-related provisions aren’t altered, and he’s said he has as many as 45 votes on his side. That number of Democratic defections would certainly doom the prospects of passing the bill in the House.

And while the Agriculture chairman said he’s working to resolve those differences and not intentionally trying to torpedo the legislation, he noted that skepticism toward the bill is growing, not shrinking.

“I’m just estimating the number of votes that will be against this,” Peterson said. “I suspect that the list has grown as more members have gotten a chance to look at this. I mean, my list has grown.”

Waxman, who said negotiations were still a work in progress, viewed the situation more optimistically.

“There are a lot of things on the table and we’re moving in his direction on certain things,” Waxman said. Like Peterson, though, Waxman declined to specify those issues that are still dividing the two chairmen.

Trouble emerged before the Memorial Day recess when Peterson and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) objected to Waxman moving the bill only through his committee. The two chairmen insisted they have a chance to mark up the bill, or at least see that changes were made.

ADVERTISEMENT
Peterson threatened to have enough votes to kill the bill if he didn’t get satisfaction, while Rangel said he wanted to focus on healthcare first, and leave the climate change bill for a later time.

Pelosi stepped in on June 3, demanding all chairmen square their business by June 19. But Peterson said that deadline is looking tough to meet.

“We’re not going to proceed unless we can get this stuff worked out,” Peterson said. The two men have not yet started to negotiate face to face, Peterson said, although he and Waxman spoke at the Wednesday chairmen’s meeting and agreed they needed to do so.

“[Waxman] said this is something he and I probably need to talk about,” Peterson said. “I’m available. I’m just waiting for him.”

Peterson has issues with provisions in and related to the bill, including how the movement toward renewable energy sources will affect rural areas and the biofuel industry.

His staff has been working with Waxman’s to reach an agreement on those and a number of other unidentified issues. But even with the deadline approaching, Peterson gave a pessimistic assessment of quickly reaching a deal with Waxman.

Democratic aides said they expect a number of those issues to be aired on Thursday during an Agriculture Committee hearing on the Waxman-Markey bill.

Though not a markup of the climate change legislation, Peterson’s committee is calling Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to testify about the impact the Waxman-Markey bill will have on the industry and on farm states.

“It’s a chance for all of the committee members to ask questions about what this bill will mean for their communities,” an aide said. “But I’m sure it will identify even more of the concerns that members have.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Forecasting yet another problem for House Democrats, Peterson said a number of those lawmakers would be happier if the House backed away from its insistence on such a comprehensive bill and instead starting working toward a more pared-down effort, such as the one being put together by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

“Generally, my members probably think that what the Senate’s doing is better,” he said. “I’ve had some of them say, ‘Why don’t we do what the Senate is doing?’ ”

A Democratic leadership aide, though, said that House leaders have not considered watering down their bill to get more votes.

“My impression is that we are continuing to move ahead on the compromise bill,” the aide said.

And while the House seems stuck, momentum appears to be building in the Senate to follow the House’s lead of enacting as big a bill as possible.

Following Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) recent comments that “If [the House] can do it, we can do it,” a group of 25 senators, led by Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), has been rallying around the Waxman-Markey legislation.

That has been music to the ears of many liberals in the House, who could balk at a bill that doesn’t include a cap-and-trade system for creating a marketplace to control carbon emissions.

“It’s the way we make progress,” Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said of reducing greenhouse gases through a cap on carbon emissions. “You just can’t do one piece of this.”