Democrats Hopeful for Narrow Victory on Climate Bill

By Paul Kane, Ben Pershing and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 26, 2009; 2:22 PM

The House headed for a cliffhanger vote today on behemoth legislation aiming to limit greenhouse gas emissions, with Democrats still hopeful they would eke out a narrow victory on a critical piece of President Obama's agenda.

With last-minute changes inserted into the bill last night, it now weighs in at more than 1,300 pages of complex new rules for the energy markets and carbon emissions. Still trying to round up all the votes possible, Democratic leaders used a series of morning and early afternoon votes on unrelated legislation to buttonhole the last few dozen holdouts on the legislation, aiming for final passage of the bill in time for evening network newscasts.

"We're getting there. We're better off today than we were yesterday," House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said of his vote-counting efforts.

At the heart of the bill is a plan to reduce emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. To do that, it would create a cap-and-trade system, in which polluters would be required to accrue buyable, sellable credits for all the greenhouse gases they produce.

But the bill also contains a system of caveats, safety valves and rule changes meant to satisfy unhappy Democrats. The result is legislation that could transform the U.S. energy industry -- and allow both Wall Street and the Iowa corn belt to build a side business in carbon.

Debate on the so-called cap-and-trade legislation began just before 1 p.m. "This bill, when enacted into law, will break our dependence on foreign oil. . . . We will create millions of clean-energy jobs," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the key architect of the bill.

In addition to being a major cornerstone of Obama's agenda, the legislation is shaping up as a critical test of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's power over the chamber and her ability to deliver the toughest legislation for the new president. Last November, after Obama's victory, Pelosi stood back and allowed Waxman to oust Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) as chairman of the commerce committee, an upset victory that was driven by Waxman's pledge to vigorously pursue climate change legislation in a way that Dingell, a close ally of the auto industry, had not done.

Republicans continued to ratchet up the pressure on Democrats from Rust Belt and farm states, warning they will face political consequences back home for legislation the GOP has labeled "cap-and-tax."

"Speaker Pelosi's national energy tax is going to raise electricity prices, increase gasoline prices, and ship American jobs overseas to countries like China and India," according to a memo from House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

GOP members privately suggested that the Democratic decision to put off the climate change debate until after approving an unrelated appropriations bill was a sign that they lacked the votes to move to the day's main event. Democrats, however, said the legislative lineup switch was just a way to get a little more time to talk with their members.

In the parliamentary vote to set up the debate, 30 Democrats voted against the rule governing the climate change debate, a sign of the minimum number of Democrats who would oppose the legislation on final passage later this afternoon.

Any talk of confidence is a sign of a remarkable turnabout for Democrats.

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