Obama and Biden Press House Democrats for Quick Action on Climate Bill
Updated 6:11 p.m.
By Shailagh Murray and Juliet Eilperin
President Obama and Vice President Biden urged a group of House Democrats at a White House meeting this morning to move forward with climate-change legislation that has become a subject of controversy among some Democrats and threatened to stall health-care reform.
The president asked a group of 34 House Democrats for quick action on a bill written by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and energy and environment subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to cap greenhouse-gas emissions by distributing carbon permits to polluting companies. Maximum emission rates would decline over time under the Waxman-Markey plan, forcing companies to adopt alternative energy sources or cut consumption.
Democratic Reps. Jay Inslee (Wash.) and Doris Matsui (Calif.), who both attended the meeting, said the president emphasized the historic nature of the climate bill.
"He told us, sometimes we do things of real impact. And none of us would want to look back in twenty to thirty years and think we had punted on something of a historic nature," Inslee said.
Obama has two reasons to lean hard on Waxman's committee: He wants to show progress on a major campaign pledge to address global warming, and he wants to clear Waxman's agenda for the health-care reform bill that is the panel's next order of business.
The fiscal 2010 budget sets an Oct. 15 deadline for the health-care legislation to clear the House and Senate under special budget rules that would protect it from a Senate filibuster.
Waxman and Markey had hoped for a committee vote on the so-called "cap and trade" plan by Memorial Day, although the Senate is moving at a much slower pace. But during hearings last week, Democrats on the House panel raised a series of concerns, including the bill's potential harm to coal-producing states and the prospect that industry costs would be passed on to consumers.
By late Tuesday, Waxman was considering bypassing a subcommittee markup on the bill in favor of the full committee, where leaders could afford to lose more Democratic votes, but he said "no final decisions on process have been made."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs read a synopsis of the meeting at his daily briefing this afternoon. "The President outlined core principles that should guide the energy legislation as the Committee finalizes it," Gibbs said. "The President believes that consumers and communities should be compensated if, during the transition period, there are any additional costs associated with reducing carbon emissions. He believes there should be predictability and certainty in the market, so that entrepreneurs can make major private sector investments in clean energy innovation. He also believes that regional impacts should be taken into account and addressed -- and that our trade sensitive industries need to be protected."
"Cap and trade is a tax, and it's a great big one," Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) told Al Gore when the former vice president appeared to testify on Friday. Dingell, who was ousted by Waxman as committee chairman, was paraphrasing the GOP's widely repeated "cap and tax" attack line.
Rep, Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a key swing vote on the committee, said he and other Democrats were "making real progress" in hammering out a compromise. The president, Boucher added, "is trusting us to work things out in committee, and he's not putting down markers."
Waxman told reporters after the meeting that his Memorial Day deadline for a committee vote still stood, although beyond that, the bill's timing remained vague. He said he and Markey would be "mindful of the regional concerns and the ratepayers" as it moves forward with the cap-and-trade bill.
"The president says he wants legislation, he wants us to move as quickly as possible," Waxman said. "We said we're moving it this year and he didn't object."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters at a Capitol briefing Tuesday morning that although Democrats had not reached consensus on the climate change bill, "I think they can still get there" by the end of May.
Matsui said the meeting gave members a sense of the importance of reaching an agreement that could ultimately pass muster in both chambers. "We're very diverse," she said of Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats. "If we can come together will a bill on that committee, we'll have a bill that can go through the Congress."
Democratic lawmakers and the White House did agree to move forward with a "cash for clunkers" plan providing incentives for drivers to trade in their old cars for more efficient new models, which Matsui said signaled movement on the overall bill. Under the agreement, which will last for a year and cover roughly one million new car and truck purchases, consumers will be able to trade in older vehicles and receive vouchers worth up to $4,500 to help pay for new, more fuel efficient cars and trucks. In addition to lowering pollution, the proposal is aimed at jump-starting U.S. auto sales.
"We have the momentum," Obama told lawmakers toward the end of the meeting, according to a Democratic source familiar with the session.
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