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E&E News: Senate Dems urge short-term focus on jobs, cap-and-trade delay
January 21, 2010

Posted by: David Lungren

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E&E News

Senate Dems urge short-term focus on jobs, cap-and-trade delay

By: Darren Samuelsohn, E&E senior reporter

January 21, 2010 

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Several influential Senate Democrats from around the country yesterday questioned the political wisdom of diving headfirst into a sweeping climate change and energy package when voters are more concerned about jobs and the state of the economy.

From Pennsylvania to California, the senators urged President Obama to focus Congress' attention on tackling the nation's double-digit unemployment rate, otherwise they would face the same voter angst that Republican Scott Brown used to ride to victory Tuesday in the Massachusetts special election to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

"There's only so much time in a day that people can digest or get a sense what's happening in Washington," said Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa). "And if they hear, 'Big, big bill, lots of debate and controversy' and they don't hear 'jobs' and they don't hear 'short term,' we're making a mistake."

Casey and at least a half dozen other Democrats said yesterday that the Senate should stay clear over the coming weeks and months from a big global warming bill at the same time Americans deal with record unemployment and a housing crisis.

"I think it's clear from the hiatus that a large cap-and-trade bill isn't going to go ahead at this time," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the substance of the ultimate global warming and energy package will make or break the bill. Still, he doubted Democrats would have the issue on their agenda at the start of the year.

"I think that there will be a greater focus on jobs and the economy," Levin said. "I don't think that means they're going to not address climate change, but I don't think it will have quite the prominence that jobs and the economy are going to have."

When they do move into the environment and energy arena, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said he would prefer Congress work on a bill that he plans to introduce with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) that curbs conventional air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury.

Past versions of the legislation have also included a limit on carbon dioxide emissions, but Carper said he would leave that debate for later. "We're not going to start there," Carper said. "We're going to start with three of those P's. And we'll leave the last of those out for now."

Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas said they had their doubts cap-and-trade legislation would be viable in 2010 -- even before the results of the Massachusetts special election.

"Cap and trade was in trouble before Senator Brown got elected," Landrieu said. "That was an issue that was still being hotly debated within the Democratic caucus, so there are many of us that are not yet convinced that that is the right way to go."

Pryor said cap and trade is not dead in 2010, but he warned that Democrats should try to keep their overall agenda simple as they start into their workload this session.

"Last year was a very difficult year legislatively, with health care, TARP, the stimulus, with two wars," Pryor said. "It's just been a hard year last year. I don't think Massachusetts changes it. But I've always had a question of whether the Senate is ready to take on a big complicated bill."

Senate Democratic leaders huddled yesterday as they weigh different job creation ideas, from tax credits to highway infrastructure projects. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Republicans were already to blame for blocking some of their economic recovery plans.

"Chairman [Barbara] Boxer [D-Calif.] is trying to get a highway bill," Reid said. "We can't get that past Republicans. Talk about jobs creation. For every billion dollars we spend, it creates 50,000 high paying jobs."

White House looking for 'momentum'

Advocates for a sweeping climate bill were arguing even before the Massachusetts election that the outcome there would not change the math on the issue. All along, they knew they would need Republican votes.

Several cap-and-trade advocates held firm to that argument yesterday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who helped shepherd last year's climate bill to a successful floor vote, said the Massachusetts election should not be read as a rebuke on cap-and-trade legislation. "I don't think it proved anything like that," she said.

At the White House, President Obama said his administration was already tapped into the public mood on the economy.

"People are angry, and they're frustrated. Not just because of what's happened in the last year or two years, but what's happened over the last eight years," Obama said in an interview with ABC News.

"You've got really hard-working folks all across the country, who have seen their wages flat line and their incomes flat line. They feel more secure than ever. Then suddenly you've got this bank crisis in which their 401Ks are evaporating, their home values -- their single-biggest investment -- is collapsing. And here in Washington -- from their perspective -- the only thing that happens is that we bail out the banks," Obama said.

Obama plans to meet with more Capitol Hill Republicans this month in an attempt to broker compromises on a series of issues, from health care to the climate bill. But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the Democratic outreach would only go so far.

"I'm happy and I know the president would be happy to work with them, but ... again, they've got to want to work," Gibbs said. "It has to be more than something that occupies seven seconds on television or two lines in a print story. It has to be heartfelt, right?"

As for cap-and-trade legislation, Gibbs said Obama was relying on lawmakers with a range of vantage points to craft a compromise bill.

"There's a process working in the Senate right now," Gibbs said. "This isn't a bipartisan effort, this is a tri-partisan effort, right? You've got an independent in Joe Lieberman, you've got a Republican in Lindsey Graham, and you've got a Democrat in John Kerry that are working through a proposal on comprehensive energy legislation.

"Look, if we can get some momentum behind that," he added, "then the answer to that would be 'yes' because you would have representatives of Democrats, Republicans and independents."

Senate Democratic leaders said they have not yet had a conversation with their rank-and-file members on the climate and energy bill. Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the issue did not even come up during the Democrats' first luncheon gathering since the Massachusetts election, whereas last week, Reid suggested a springtime floor debate.

Asked about the mood among moderate Democrats, Durbin replied, "I haven't counted the votes on that, nor been asked to. Too soon."

Daily Senate meetings begin

Kerry, Graham and Lieberman yesterday held their first in a series of daily meetings since the winter recess as they try to find a sweet spot that wins them 60 Senate votes. For now, Graham said the senators do not have anything down on paper.

Graham said he has made progress with fellow Republicans as he tries to convince them a carbon cap was a necessary trade off for all the energy items they want.

"I can get every Republican for an energy independence bill," Graham said. "But there are not 60 votes. You're not going to get the nuclear power provisions you want unless you do something on emission controls."

Exactly what the climate limits are remains a work in progress, though Graham said the trio is convinced that their efforts should cover multiple sectors of the U.S. economy and not just focus on power plants. "I think you've got to price carbon," he said. "You can have a hybrid system of emission controls and taxes."

As he makes his case, Graham said he underscores the call from major industries for regulatory certainty amid the prospect of U.S. EPA climate regulations.

"I just don't see how you leave the pollution side of the equation out of the mix," Graham said. "And why would you? Why would you want to have a national energy policy that didn't deal with carbon pollution, something that over time I think will affect the health of all Americans. Most Americans would like to clean up the air."

Like Graham, Lieberman downplayed the effect of the Massachusetts election on their bid to pass legislation.

"The goal has not changed at all," he said. "We're starting with three of us and a few more, with a bipartisan team working to get the climate change [bill] adopted. It doesn't mean that getting 60 is easy, but it means unlike health care that this will be a bipartisan proposal."

One of those Republicans being targeted is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is leading efforts to repeal EPA's authority for writing climate regulations. Murkowski yesterday said she would delay plans for a Senate floor vote on her effort, and she acknowledged her controversial move could end up yielding a bipartisan breakthrough on the broader energy and global warming package.

"It's forcing that conversation on what do we do on energy," Murkowski said. "That's what the debate and the conversation needs."

Murkowski did not rule out lending her support to a cap-and-trade bill. But she also outlined a series of demands that would need to be met -- including drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- an issue sure to give heartburn to Democrats and environmentalists.

"What I can tell you is we've been picking brains here on what would those component pieces be that would be very important, in fact must haves for someone like myself," Murkowski said. "Looking at the domestic side of it, I really want to figure out how we advance all of our offshore and onshore resources. That includes ANWR. That includes real offshore. Those are going to be some tough sells for some of our friends on the other side. But we need to be having those conversations."

Not every Republican is a likely candidate.

Asked specifically about the link between the Massachusetts election and the energy and climate bill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "I would say there's minimal enthusiasm to put it mildly for cap and trade. But again, the majority leader sets the agenda, and he'll have to decide whether he wants to devote floor time in the Senate to that proposal."

But additional GOP support could still clear the way for some of the very moderate Democrats who want the Capitol Hill agenda to remain focused on the economy. For now, though, that seems a long ways from happening.

"If there's a real bipartisan breakthrough, that might help," Casey said. "But I think in the next couple of weeks, we just need to have a jobs bill and a jobs focus."

E&E reporters Noelle Straub and Robin Bravender contributed.


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