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Obama and Biden press House Dems for fast action on climate bill, Waxman MAY take bill straight to full committee

The Washington Post reported today:

President Obama and Vice President Biden urged a group of House Democrats at a White House meeting this morning to move forward with climate-change legislation that has become a subject of controversy among some Democrats and threatened to stall health-care reform.

At the same time, E&E News PM (subs. req’d) reported:

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said today that he will bypass regular order on a major climate change and energy bill and mark up the legislation before the entire 59-member panel.

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At this point, I don’t have confirmation for the second story, but it is obviously one strategy for moving the bill along while still giving time for intra-party negotiation.

There does seem to be movement on the bill and the Obama-Biden visit may have helped:

“We are exchanging concepts and where we reach agreement, we’re working on language,” said Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a lead negotiator for the moderate Democrats.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said Democratic talks had picked up in recent days, and he predicted a proposal from committee leaders to the wavering moderates within days, if not hours. “I discern some movement,” Butterfield said.

The upbeat prognosis for the House climate talks came shortly after a roughly 90-minute White House meeting with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. According to several lawmakers at the session, Obama urged the Democrats to reach consensus on the issue by Memorial Day so that the committee can turn its attention to health care reform in June.

“He didn’t want to see this slip by the wayside,” said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). “He wants us to keep working.”

Democrats said Obama was well briefed on the details and complexities of the climate issue. “He has mastered the details,” Boucher said.

Yet, they also said the president wants the committee members to work through the sticking points themselves. “He wants us to try to work out our bill, and he’s giving us a lot of latitude to do that,” Waxman said.

More detail on the visit:

Democratic Reps. Jay Inslee (Wash.) and Doris Matsui (Calif.), who both attended the meeting, said the president emphasized the historic nature of the climate bill.

“He told us, sometimes we do things of real impact. And none of us would want to look back in twenty to thirty years and think we had punted on something of a historic nature,” Inslee said….

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs read a synopsis of the meeting at his daily briefing this afternoon. “The President outlined core principles that should guide the energy legislation as the Committee finalizes it,” Gibbs said. “The President believes that consumers and communities should be compensated if, during the transition period, there are any additional costs associated with reducing carbon emissions. He believes there should be predictability and certainty in the market, so that entrepreneurs can make major private sector investments in clean energy innovation. He also believes that regional impacts should be taken into account and addressed — and that our trade sensitive industries need to be protected.”

Finally, Obama weighed on the controversial auction vs. allocation issue:

Because of their regional diversity, Obama also suggested that Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee could help propel the entire issue forward — including through the Senate — if they can strike a deal among themselves.

“If we can reach agreement with the coal sector, with the steel, with the auto sector, with the refining sector on our committee, which is very representative of the Congress as a whole, then we believe that’ll be a template for passage in the Senate, as well,” Markey said. “Because the agreements we’ll reach will be the very same agreements that those industry leaders … will be able to represent to senators are the basis for passage of legislation that they can support.”

Obama addressed a key sticking point in negotiations, telling the Democrats that he is open to giving away some of the emission credits for free to industry, a clear shift from last year’s presidential campaign and the administration’s budget proposal in favor of a complete auction of the allowances.

“I wouldn’t say it’s contrary,” Waxman said. “He wants us to get to a point where we’re going to have an auction, and eventually we will get to an auction.”

Any free credits, Waxman added, would not undercut the goals of the legislation.

“It’s going to require during that transition period of decades for the Congress to deal with the cost to consumers, and the cost to different industries and the development of the new technologies,” he said. “We’re trying to be mindful of the regional concerns and the ratepayers, particularly the consumers.”

Kudos to Obama and Biden — and Waxman and Markey — for continuing to move the ball forward.