Pelosi phones Ag chairman to unhitch climate measure

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) placed a call Wednesday night to her Agriculture Committee chairman, hoping to find out why he is holding up a climate change bill that she wants passed this summer.

Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who has made known that he has enough votes to derail the Speaker’s priority legislation if agricultural provisions aren’t changed, said he spoke with Pelosi “for a while” and that it was “cordial.”

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“She’s not putting any pressure on me,” Peterson said. “She knows where I’m coming from.”

Pelosi got personally involved hours after Peterson declared Wednesday that he’s at an impasse with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) over numerous provisions in Waxman’s bill and that the list of Democratic members who might vote against the measure is growing rather than shrinking.

Peterson made his objections known before the Memorial Day recess to the deal forged by Waxman and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) that was initially set to bypass his committee. He has maintained that he has more than 45 Democrats standing right behind him, most of whom are overly concerned that the allocation of carbon permits is tilted far too heavily toward urban areas, and that rural areas will see their utility rates spike disproportionately as a result.

Pelosi tried to expedite the matter, sending word on June 3 to Peterson and other chairmen that they could have an opportunity to mark up the bill, but that all committee business had to be finished by June 19. But since then, Pelosi has softened the deadline, saying it will come to the floor when it’s “ready.”

Publicly, Pelosi has maintained her distance from the negotiations over language, which were bumped up to the chairmen Thursday afternoon after the staffs reached an impasse on a number of issues.

“Other committees have their jurisdiction to weigh in on and that’s the process we’re involved in,” Pelosi said on Thursday. “And when we’re finished and when we’re ready we’ll go to the floor.”

But Peterson said — and other Democrats contend — that Pelosi has now gotten intimately involved in trying to bridge the gap between Waxman and Peterson and his committee members. The Agriculture chairman said he wouldn’t be surprised if Pelosi joins in his face-to-face meeting with Waxman.

“She said she wants something that works,” Peterson said. “She wants to get all of these issues worked out. She’s trying to find a way to get enough of the caucus to support this.”

“It’s not easy,” Peterson said with a chuckle.

Waxman and Markey overcame skepticism of a number of Democrats on the Energy panel in order to produce a bill that will set new carbon emissions and renewable energy standards, and set up a system of allowing carbon producers to trade among themselves permits for carbon production.

Peterson and his committee Democrats — not one of whom also sits on the Energy Committee — banded together to insist on a number of changes.

Waxman on Thursday said he’s still aiming — at the Speaker’s behest — to have the bill voted on before the July 4 recess because it will be difficult to juggle both climate change and healthcare legislation in July.

“The Speaker’s made clear that she wants this bill,” Waxman said. “After we come back from the July 4 recess it’s all healthcare.”

Waxman has been more optimistic of the dispute with Peterson, but without sharing specific details.

“I think we can bridge these divides,” Waxman said. “I’m looking forward to sharing with him my ideas for how to do that.”

While negotiations continue with deeper involvement from Pelosi, Democratic leaders have begun to whip farm-state Democrats in order to see how far off they are from the 218 votes needed to pass the bill in the House.

Agriculture Democrat Tim Walz (Minn.) said he was asked for his position — which he said was officially undecided — during a vote on Thursday.

Walz said Peterson was articulating his concerns — and the concerns of dozens of members — very well.

“He’s looking out for agriculture interests first and foremost,” Walz said. “But he’s been very articulate to us in explaining how this is going to affect all of our districts.”