Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) insisted today that he hopes to move a comprehensive climate bill “as quickly as we can” but stopped short of endorsing action over the next three months before a major international global warming summit in Copenhagen.
Reid earlier this week fueled speculation that the climate bill would be punted until 2010 because of a cramped legislative calendar that also includes health care and Wall Street regulations. His comments left many foreign diplomats nervous ahead of this December’s U.N. climate negotiations, where the Obama administration will be relying in large part on the fate of legislation on Capitol Hill.
Even more important, I’m told, the climate science realists in the Cabinet had a come-to-jeepers* meeting this week with the political team, and the word went out from the White House that the climate bill is still a top priority of the administration, with a strong desire to see the Senate act this year. That said, I thought the White House’s commitment to the issue was fairly obvious from the big recent news: Obama to speak at U.N. special session on global warming; Todd Stern testifies “Nothing the U.S. can do is more important for the international negotiation process than passing robust, comprehensive clean energy legislation as soon as possible”¦. President Obama and the Secretary of State, along with our entire Administration, are committed to action on this issue.”
Here’s more from Reid himself on the timing — and some relatively positive words for a surprising Senate source:
Asked about the international uproar over his comments that the bill may be delayed, Reid quickly replied, “I didn’t say that.”
“We’ve always talked about doing climate after health care, OK?” Reid added. “The president has been pushing hard on regulation reform. Maybe we do that first. I don’t think so. But there’s no reason we can’t do both of them. Nobody talked about next year. What I said is this is a Congress. It lasts for two years. We’ve got tons of stuff we’re going to have to do next year. Climate change is something we’re going to have to do as quickly as we can.”
Reid said he did not know how long the Senate would be occupied with the health care legislation. He also said that Democratic committee leaders no longer have a deadline to wrap up their pieces of the climate bill.
“We did have a date,” Reid said, referring to the Sept. 28 target that he abandoned earlier this month. “And health care has pushed all that back.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) are writing the core pieces of a climate bill, with plans for an introduction before the end of the month. The two are planning markups in October despite the all-out focus on health care.
“Even though we’re competing for space and time with health care, the fact of the matter is, these are problems of enough magnitude and enough importance that there’s an urgency attached to them,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a member of the EPW Committee.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said today that she is still reluctant to move too quickly on the global warming bill.
“I do have concerns about agriculture and consumers, in terms of the cost of food and things that I don’t think have really been fleshed out,” Lincoln said. “It looks like the bill they’re going to produce has placeholders for some of those. I don’t know. If it’s got some ideas of how we answer those questions, I’ll look forward to looking at it. But I haven’t seen it.”
The Senate health care debate “is kind of sucking all of the air out of the room” as other colleagues try to discuss climate change, Lincoln said.
But she is already working toward more hearings on global warming and drafting language that can be inserted into the Boxer-Kerry bill without a markup.
“I don’t anticipate the need to mark up a bill,” Lincoln said. “If it comes to that point, I’m not afraid to do it. But I certainly don’t see the need. I think, working with my colleagues, we can come up with some good things.”
Those are certainly more positive words than we’ve heard from Lincoln to date (see “Much ado about not much: New Ag Chairwoman may not change Senate dynamic on climate bill push“).
*[I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter, so I have to be more careful what I say — and I dictate all of my blog posts using Dragon NaturallySpeaking software. In place of her saying “Oh, Jesus” — and no, that wasn’t me she was imitating — we’ve taught her to now mostly say “Oh jeepers, Batman”!]