Senate Democrats continue internal debate over energy & climate bill prospects

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, June 17 – In a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting Thursday afternoon, senators heard presentations on competing energy and climate bills but decided only to postpone picking winners.

The best prepared pitches came from Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), explaining his cap-and-trade bill, and from Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) championing her bill which she claims is far simpler, leaving no opportunity for Wall Street manipulation. Both supported their cases with videos. But the only pitch with Republican support – essential now that Democrats no longer have a 60 vote majority – is Cantwell's cap-and-dividend CLEAR Act which is co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Previously, the Kerry-Lieberman bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), but Graham withdrew his support and now backs a competing bill from Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) which does not include a carbon cap.

Emerging from the Thursday caucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that with nothing settled yet, the caucus will meet again next week to continue its consideration of where to go, perhaps with an energy bill on its own or comprehensive energy legislation. Calling the decision on legislation “a work in progress,” Reid explained that “The reason we’re coming back for another caucus is because we understand the importance of this issue. We have no one saying no. We have everyone saying yes. It’s a question of how we move forward.”

Despite the fact that top energy company officials testified in House hearings this week on the BP oil spill that they favor legislation to put a price on carbon, Reid made it clear that Democrats haven't decided yet whether there are enough votes to pass a carbon cap in the Senate. Reid instead simply confirmed that “of course pricing carbon is part of our discussion.”

Pointing out that any legislation now needs at least some Republican support, Reid said the determining factor is that “We need to write a bill that will pass in the Senate.” Reid held out the hope of finding enough agreement to begin floor consideration of a bill in July.

The White House may help to create agreement next week. A White House meeting with President Obama scheduled for next Wednesday is likely to include not only Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Cantwell but, reaching for bipartisan support, also Sens. Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

For more information, watch Sen. Cantwell's two-minute video on her
 CLEAR Act, at and Sen, Kerry's competing seven-minute video at

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