June 19th is usually an ordinary day, celebrated, if at all, as Emancipation Day in Texas, or the anniversary of the first NASCAR race in 1949 (Happy 60th, NASCAR), or in some quarters as Paula Abdul’s birthday (1962). But this year, the day takes on a special significance as the deadline set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for completion of work by each of the eight House committees with jurisdiction over various pieces of H.R. 2545, the climate and energy legislation reported two weeks ago by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Speaker Pelosi is seeking to keep momentum on her side, and force recalcitrant Committee Chairman to act, But it is an extraordinarily tight timeline and fraught with challenges from both sides of the aisle.
Congressional deadlines can slip, and this one may, but all the signs suggest that the Speaker is determined to bring a comprehensive bill to the House floor ahead of the July 4 Congressional recess. Those inclined to appreciate the House’s capacity to multitask (or to speculate on actual timing) will want to recall that the House plans also to take up health care overhaul before the August recess. The horse trading required to bring a comprehensive bill together in the next eleven days, if successful, will mark one of the most interesting features of this session of Congress.
Speaker Pelosi said last week that the Agriculture and Ways and Means panels are the “two main committees” that are poised to take up the energy and climate legislation, although six other committees also have jurisdiction over relevant sections of the bill: Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Education and Labor, Science and Technology, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Natural Resources. (As we reported last week, the Natural Resources Committee staff has prepared ambitious draft legislation on oil and gas and marine renewables, but no bill has been introduced yet and it is not clear whether the provisions will be integrated into H.R. 2454.)
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) have yet to offer details on how they plan to proceed on the bill. The Ways and Means Committee will have broad jurisdiction over sections of the climate bill that raise or distribute revenue, most notably the dollars raised by auctioning emissions allowances. The committee is expected to weigh in on how those revenues may be used to shield low- and middle-income consumers and trade-sensitive industries from energy price increases.
The Agriculture Committee is expected to involve itself in selecting the agency to oversee at least some of the carbon market financial instruments that would be established by the legislation, with the odds favoring the committee to seek to assign a major role to Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which is under that committee's jurisdiction. The committee is also sure to fight to protect ethanol and other biofuels from life-cycle carbon footprint calculations (and, frankly, anything else) that would restrain markets for biofuel feedstocks.
Chairman Peterson's most important task, however, will be to give his conservative Democratic colleagues political coverage resilient enough to allow them to vote for a bill not widely favored in their rural districts, but that is a top priority for their Party and their President. Chairman Peterson has been in negotiations with House Democratic leadership and Chairman Waxman about specific changes to make the bill more palatable to Agriculture Committee Democrats, especially members who hail from Republican-leaning districts.
The Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on H.R. 2545 this Thursday.
At press time, it appears that a clear majority of Agriculture Committee Democrats, and Chairman Peterson, are committed to vote against H.R. 2545 in its current form. Chairman Peterson has a long and complicated relationship with Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Waxman, and many other more liberal members of the Democratic Caucus. He also has a very strong independent streak and is well known to stand his ground. This aspect of the climate change debate is likely to remain unresolved to the last minute – whether that comes on June 19th or sometime later.