WASHINGTON – House Democrats grew increasingly confident on Thursday that they have the votes to deliver on one of President Barack Obama’s highest priorities: a landmark effort to fight global warming and boost alternatives to fossil fuels.
With the vote coming as early as today, House leaders said they were closing on majority support but had not locked it down yet.
“We’re going to get the votes,” Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who co-authored the bill with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in an interview. “We’re going to pass the most important energy and environment bill in the history of the United States.”
If the bill succeeds, Obama would score a major victory at a time when his poll numbers have dropped slightly and his administration is juggling efforts to overhaul health care, reform financial regulations and deal with Iran, North Korea and other foreign policy challenges.
Mindful of the stakes, Obama deployed chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, top climate change adviser Carol Browner and several Cabinet officials and key staff to lobby on-the-fence lawmakers on Thursday – in phone calls, face-to-face meetings and a long-scheduled congressional luau at the White House.
The president made several phone calls to undecided members himself. He appealed to others in a quick afternoon speech in the Rose Garden.
“I know this is going to be a close vote,” Obama said, “in part because of the misinformation that’s out there that suggests there’s somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and our economic growth. But my call to those members of Congress who are still on the fence, as well as to the American people, is this: We cannot be afraid of the future, and we can’t be prisoners of the past.
“We’ve been talking about this issue for decades, and now is the time to finally act.”
Faced with the increasing likelihood that Democratic leaders would follow through with their plans to bring the bill to a floor vote today, Republicans and some industry groups – including the Farm Bureau, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute – intensified their attacks.
House Republican Leader John Boehner said the bill would create an unworkable government bureaucracy, while others continued to label it an “energy tax” – and said it would harm U.S. business.
The bill “is going to force small businesses and their workers and their families to pay more for electricity, gasoline and other products that are made in America that have a high energy content,” said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif. “This will cause high-energy industries, like the steel-making industry, to move out of the United States and to our competitors such as China, India and South Korea.”
The legislation, which currently spans more than 1,200 pages and could grow today, is centered on a so-called “cap-and-trade” system to limit the heat-trapping gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming.
Under the system, major sources of those gases, including factories and power plants, would need to obtain permits for their greenhouse gas emissions or buy “offsets” to cover them – such as planting trees to soak carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The number of permits would fall every year, reducing emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050.
The bill also includes broad energy efficiency efforts, incentives for renewable power sources such as wind and solar, and concessions to win support from manufacturers, coal-reliant utilities and farmers – which in turn helped win support from moderate Democrats.