Dem centrists press Pelosi to shelve climate bill

Democratic centrists are pressing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to set aside a flagging climate change bill to focus on what they think is a more achievable goal: overhauling the nation’s healthcare system.

But those close to Pelosi (D-Calif.) say she is charging forward on cap-and-trade legislation, despite the potential defections of Democrats who represent states with industries that would be adversely affected by the bill.

Pelosi views the bill’s troubles as predictable and solvable aspects of the legislative process.

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Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a leader of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, sees healthcare as a more productive use of time.

“What a number of us believe is that if we’re in the business of passing legislation, healthcare is where we ought to be putting our emphasis,” said Davis, a vice chairman of the business-minded New Democrats. “That means putting that over climate change policy. But in the throes of a recession, more of a burden on industry is not a good idea.”

Davis, who is running for governor in a coal-dependent state, says with Republicans united against the Democratic cap-and-trade plan, the legislation could easily be derailed with a substitute. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) provided such a substitute earlier this week when he offered up a plan to accelerate offshore drilling, and deemed cap-and-trade hopelessly “stalled.”

Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), a senior Blue Dog Democrat, says he sees more chances for Republican support on healthcare.

“They’re both hard lifts,” said Tanner. “I think we can get an incremental healthcare bill that is maybe less divisive than cap-and-trade. You have to walk before you can run.”

The views of the two Ways and Means Southerners square with those of Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the House Democratic campaign chief charged with protecting vulnerable members in conservative districts. In an exchange in a leadership meeting last week confirmed by aides and participants, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) criticized Van Hollen for disparaging the chances of cap-and-trade. Van Hollen said he felt that healthcare reform should be done first.

After the exchange became public, Van Hollen got support from his vulnerable members, aides said.

“They appreciated that he was looking out for their interests,” said a Democratic aide.
Democratic aides say the sentiment for putting healthcare first is felt most strongly among New Democrats.

“A lot of our members feel that healthcare has a higher likelihood, so getting that done first and then doing energy makes sense,” said an aide to a New Democratic leader.

“New Dems are in a tough spot,” said one Blue Dog member, explaining that New Democrats are more likely to have an environmental constituency at odds with their business constituency. Blue Dogs, by comparison, have more freedom simply to vote no on climate change legislation.

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“There’s not as much talk among Blue Dogs about what should go first, but there is a feeling that if there’s only one, it should be healthcare,” the member said.

Pelosi held a meeting on cap-and-trade last week with Blue Dog leaders, who told her that consensus was possible on cap-and-trade, but only if she takes a cautious approach that takes centrist views into account.

Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), a New Democrat and Blue Dog who opposes cap-and-trade and supports the healthcare overhaul, said he thinks healthcare will take priority without prodding because there is more of a consensus on healthcare.

“I don’t think we should hold back on healthcare to see progress on cap-and-trade,” Altmire said. “They can’t put the pieces together the same way they have for healthcare.”

But the idea of putting healthcare before climate change contravenes the wishes of President Obama, who met Tuesday with Energy and Commerce Democrats and reinforced that he wants the House to tackle cap-and-trade before healthcare.

Obama called the meeting after cap-and-trade appeared to bog down in committee, without the votes to pass. That is likely to be tested next week, when Waxman is expected to leapfrog the subcommittee to hold a full-committee vote. That plan got more complicated Wednesday when Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldRace and the digital divide: Why broadband access is more than an urban vs rural issue Amazon hiring alcohol lobbyist GOP lawmaker draws backlash for telling Democratic colleague to 'shut up' during heated ObamaCare debate MORE (D-N.C.), vice chairman of the subcommittee, objected to the plan.

Pelosi was adamant Wednesday that climate change will stay on track. While acknowledging that Democrats have undertaken “a bigger agenda than we’ve had” in the past, she said, “I believe [climate change legislation] will be done this year.”

Those close to Pelosi say she figures healthcare has just as much chance to bog down.

“Reports of the death of cap-and-trade are premature,” said a Democratic aide. “The timing, momentum and dollars haven’t come together yet. The Speaker’s not in a panic about it.”

There is thinking within leadership that it’s better to have two complex issues going at one time, the aide said. When there’s only one, it draws all the fire. So Pelosi might keep cap-and-trade going, waiting for healthcare to become stalled, then return the emphasis to cap-and-trade.

That could happen next week, when some lawmakers are expecting to see draft healthcare legislation.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who’s taken a more prominent role with healthcare legislation, was more circumspect than Pelosi this week about cap-and-trade’s chances.

“There is obviously, at this point in time, very serious discussions and not a consensus,” Hoyer said. “Whether it is a gridlock or not, I don’t know.”

Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: Trump moves forward with rule on California drilling | House panel advances bill that resumes participation in Paris climate fund | Perry pressed on 'environmental justice' | 2020 Dem proposes climate corps Trump administration moves forward with final rule to allow new California drilling Overnight Energy: Interior chief says climate response falls on Congress | Bernhardt insists officials will complete offshore drilling plans | Judge rules EPA must enforce Obama landfill pollution rules MORE (D-Calif.), a member of top leadership who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, said both healthcare and cap-and-trade are vying for the attention of the caucus.

"The horses that want to do healthcare reform are catching up with the horses who want to do climate change,” Becerra said. “It’s a matter of who has stronger, healthier legs.”