By Jonathan E. Kaplan - 01/24/07 12:00 AM EST
Setting up an awkward date, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has accepted an invitation from Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) to the Washington Auto Show.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are waiting nervously to find out whether this is the first step in defusing an escalating dispute between them, or whether Pelosi’s proposal to create a select panel on global warming is heading for a “train wreck” of a vote on the House floor — a vote that could be very close if Dingell urges his panel members to reject it.
The invitation maybe a way for the House Energy Commerce Committee chairman to stem the tension that has been building since Pelosi proposed the creation of a select committee on energy independence and global warming last week, said a Democratic official. The idea has led to heated meetings and recriminations between Dingell and Pelosi and Rep. Edward MarkeyEd MarkeyTakata says it failed to report airbag rupture in 2003 Set-top box shenanigans at the FCC Week ahead in tech: Crunch time for internet handoff opponents MORE (D-Mass.), who likely would head the committee.
Democrats want to avoid a fight because with 233 members in the caucus, a loss of 16 members and a united House GOP Conference could defeat a measure.
Pelosi strongly defended her decision yesterday, predicting Democrats would not align with Republicans to bring down the select committee.
“I don’t intend to have that happen,” said Pelosi, who has indicated she wants climate-change legislation on the floor by summer. “One percent [of the caucus] is opposed to it; 99 percent want to be on the select committee.”
Still, it appears Pelosi and Dingell would vie for members of the Energy and Commerce Committee and some Blue Dog Democrats, who could determine the select committee’s fate.
A survey of several Democrats serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee indicated that most were reticent to talk about where they stood on the issue and how they would vote on it.
Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.) declined comment and another rank-and-file Democrat on the panel said he wanted to “stay out of it.” Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) indicated she had “no problem” with it.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who opposes the committee but appears willing to live with it if it is created, told his colleagues last week that the best way to proceed would be to undercut the select the committee by quickly drafting an energy bill.
Democratic leaders have not scheduled a vote. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters yesterday that he and Pelosi had not discussed a timetable. Hoyer refused to speculate whether leadership has convinced a majority of the lower chamber to create the panel.
The majority leader said Dingell outlined a legislative game plan during Hoyer’s weekly Tuesday morning meeting with committee chairs: “[Dingell], as a matter of fact, made the comment his intention is to work as assiduously as possible with his committee to come out with solutions, legislative alternatives, in the near term, in the June timeframe.” Hoyer also quoted Dingell as saying “it is going to be tough” to draft this bill.
Hoyer also said the select committee would not strip Dingell of any turf, noting that, “What this select committee is going to do, however, in a global sense, looking across jurisdictional lines, [is] look at opportunities out there to address the global warming issue.”
Aides sympathetic to Pelosi said that Dingell has used process for blocking changes in energy policy. They said Dingell, a close ally of the auto industry, does not want to move quickly to impose measures to reduce greenhouse gases whereas Pelosi and more liberal members of the Democratic Caucus want to make energy independence a central theme of the 110th Congress.
Other Democrats said that Dingell has let it be known that he is reluctant to proceed quickly because it took him 15 years to pass the Clean Air and Water Act of 1991 and that the issues are complicated.
Pelosi announced this week that she wants to introduce a bill promoting energy independence by July 4, America’s Independence Day. But she informed Dingell about her plans last Friday morning when announced the proposal, said two Democratic lobbyists and a leadership aide.
Dingell reportedly said the committee idea was “dumb” and as useful as “feathers on a fish.”
Other Democratic committee chairmen, including Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who is the second-ranking Democrat on Energy and Commerce, opposed the idea because it could strip global warming and energy policy from Energy and Commerce’s jurisdiction.