Passing energy legislation is a lot like cat herding

Democrats are split over whether to support a climate change bill.

By Vincent Rossmeier
Published May 6, 2009 7:10PM (EDT)

If you've ever worked as a camp counselor and had to look after a seething mass of sugar-crazed kids all intent on running away from you in as many different directions as possible, you have a good sense of what the White House and some supportive House Democrats are going through in trying to get a climate change bill through Congress.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a bill at the end of March, sponsored by Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., that would cut greenhouse emissions 83 percent by 2050. The measure also included a cap-and-trade system designed to curb carbon dioxide. Democrats immediately expected resistance from Congressional Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the time, "We would hope to have Republican votes as we go forward on this. Will I not put it forth unless I do? No. There’s an inevitability to this that everyone has to understand."

However, now the White House, Pelosi and Waxman are having to face serious questions about Democratic support for the legislation. Tuesday, President Obama and Vice President Biden met with 34 House Democrats to encourage them to push ahead with the bill. The White House's pep talk did not seem to quell the concerns of all House Democrats. though. According to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, there is "not a consensus" on the issue among his members, especially concerning the cap-and-trade provision. Democrats from heavy coal, oil and steel producing areas are especially worried about the impact cap-and-trade would have on the economy in their districts.

Waxman, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, acknowledged such worries but is going ahead anyway. He is so intent on the bill passing the committee by his self-imposed end of May deadline that he has decided to bypass a subcommittee.

And what about Republicans? They're playing the part Pelosi assigned to them at the beginning of the debate. Led by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., on Tuesday Republicans stepped up their opposition to the proposed bill. Pence also reiterated a claim that the GOP has repeated throughout the discussions on cap-and-trade, namely that the Waxman-Markey bill is an “energy tax” that would bilk Americans out of $3,100 a year, though the economist responsible for the study on which that number is based has continuously argued the GOP distorted his findings.

Asked about whether global warming is a problem that Republicans think needs to be addressed, Pence replied, "I think you would find among House Republicans varying opinions on the man-made origins of global warming."

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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Barack Obama Democratic Party Energy Environment Global Warming Steny Hoyer D-md.