House Dem Leaders Reach Out To Disparate Caucuses

June 10, 2009

While much focus has been on weary committee chairs, House Democratic leaders are also reaching out to other Democratic caucuses to smooth out potential problems before bringing a climate bill up to the floor potentially by Independence Day.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman is scheduled to brief the 69-member New Democrat Coalition at their weekly meeting Thursday at Waxman’s request. The group includes 17 first-term Democrats, many of whom represent swing districts important to Democratic leaders to keep hold of in the 2010 elections. Energy for the second straight week will also be one of the topics when Speaker Pelosi today holds her regular separate meetings with freshmen and sophomores.

Last week, Waxman and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward Markey, D-Mass., attended the freshmen meeting and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., joined the two of them at the meeting of the sophomores, a House Democratic leadership aide said. Boucher Tuesday said another meeting might happen this week with the freshmen.

Boucher said one of the issues raised at last week’s briefing with the sophomore class was how to sell the bill in the face of stiff resistance in some districts.

Democrats in the last two election cycles made significant gains particularly in areas historically favoring Republicans, who have been actively deriding the Energy and Commerce bill as imposing a huge tax on businesses and consumers.

“The political side of me says, ‘put the bill up … because it’s a terrible bill for Democrats to have to vote for and support,'” Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee issued a rapid-response series of e-mails hitting some of the panel’s Democrats over regional issues — such as Reps. Zack Space of Ohio on coal and Charlie Melancon of Louisiana on oil and gas — after several Republican message amendments were defeated in the recent Energy and Commerce markup. The NRCC followed that with a series of robocalls when Pelosi visited Iowa over the weekend, targeting the state’s three Democratic House members — Reps. Bruce Braley, Leonard Boswell and Dave Loebsack.

On Monday, the NRCC sent out a first batch of releases targeting Democrats on the Agriculture Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, has been working with Waxman on a list of problems he has that are shared by some other rural Democrats. “Is [Rep.] Tim Walz among those willing to stand against the Dems’ job-killing climate bill?” asks one such NRCC release Monday of Walz, also a Minnesota Democrat.

On Tuesday, Walz said he shares the concerns Peterson has cited, including EPA’s proposed inclusion of international land-use to determine the carbon footprint of corn-based ethanol. “I believe that [if] we don’t get a correction on that, then we will not be a part of an energy bill and we will not be able to help reduce emissions,” Walz said of ethanol backers.

Walz also wants more help for rural electricity companies, who met with his district staff Monday. His staff also met with environmental groups Tuesday. “And we’re asking them, lay your case out,” said Walz, who personally met with the Congressional Research Service Tuesday for a walk-through of four of the bill’s sections.

Aides to Waxman and Peterson have been trying to work out deals, but when asked Tuesday whether he saw a light at the end of the tunnel in the talks, Peterson said, “Not at this moment. … A lot of problematic issues.”

He said he thought that possibly by today, staffers will get as far as they would be able to. “I think they’re getting near the end,” he said.

There is also pressure coming from the left. Forty environmental groups — including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Public Citizen — asked Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel Tuesday to act on the bill. “We believe that the environmental, economic, public health and international security threats of global warming require full and fair consideration by the multiple committees of jurisdiction in the House of Representatives,” their letter to Rangel states.

Rangel has shown signs, though, that he might skip a formal markup on the bill given the heavy attention his panel is paying to healthcare legislation. “It was pointed out by a couple of members about how difficult it was in a short period of time to concentrate on climate and health,” Rangel said regarding an hour-long meeting Ways and Means Democrats had Tuesday with President Obama on health care.

He reiterated to Obama that nothing will stand in the way of doing a healthcare bill this summer “even if it meant that we didn’t have the time to adequately work our will on energy.” His panel might still take up an energy and climate bill. “We haven’t taken that up, but we will soon I guess,” Rangel said.

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