The House Energy and Commerce Committee kicked off debate of the Waxman-Markey climate bill on Monday, beginning what will likely be a grueling week of work to get the bill through the key panel before Memorial Day.

“I think members ought to be prepared to work late every single night,” Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said after opening statements wrapped up Monday afternoon.

Waxman and co-author Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released the latest draft of the bill (PDF) late Monday afternoon. Committee members offered opening statements on Monday, and the process of offering amendments is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

The new draft weighs in at 946 pages, which has prompted some griping from Republicans that they haven’t had sufficient time to review it. There was some fear (especially on the part of reporters who have to cover this stuff, ahem) that Republicans would force a reading of the legislation’s full text before the committee proceeded to debate. While the minority waived that option, they have pledged to offer hundreds of amendments this week.

Delay of game

Estimates of just how many changes to the climate bill the GOP members plan to offer run as high as 449, according to a list (PDF) that has been passed around Capitol Hill. The list includes amendments that would allow individual states to opt out of the cap-and-trade program altogether, and another that would call the whole thing off should certain states lose 1,000 jobs due to restrictions on carbon emissions. Another proposed amendment would lower the 2020 emission-reduction targets.

The committee’s top Republican and one of the most vocal climate change skeptics in the House, Joe Barton of Texas, is also planning to introduce a competing bill that would essentially defang the Waxman-Markey proposal by removing the cap-and-trade provision and letting preexisting coal-fired power plants off the hook for their emissions. It would also repeal the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA that acknowledged the EPA’s right to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, and would take away the right of states to set their own emissions standards. The bulk of Barton’s proposal focuses on ramping up production of oil, gas, coal, and nuclear power.

Fred Upton (Mich.), another senior GOP member of the committee, said Republicans planned to meet Monday night to prioritize their amendments. Upton said that he believes a number of Republicans on the committee could support the bill if they took out the cap-and-trade component, which of course would make it unappealing for the majority of Democrats on the panel.

Since Upton and other Republicans probably aren’t going to be able to torpedo the cap-and-trade portion, they hope to convince some moderate Democrats on the panel to support changes to weaken it.

“I’d like to think there could be a number of Democrats who could support these,” said Upton. “We’ll see if we can’t influence this with some amendments.”

Dems holding firm

But Democrats – even the moderates – seem to be on board with the bill as is, after Waxman and Markey agonized over the specifics for three weeks before finally announcing a deal late last week. The authors have even managed to win over some Democrats who were expected to oppose a comprehensive climate deal. Coal cheerleader Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said last week that he is on board. And John Dingell (D-Michigan), a key ally of the auto industry, said on Monday, “This is a good bill; I intend to support it.”

There are likely to be some amendments from Democrats, including one from Dingell that would create a Clean Energy Investment Bank to provide loans for research and development of new technologies. Other Democrats have indicated that they may introduce amendments to support additional mandates for automobile technologies and funding for international adaptation.

But it appears at this point that the Dems are united in a desire to pass the bill out of committee, and aren’t going to take Republican bait. “The amendments they’ll be offering will be designed to obstruct. I will resist those amendments,” Boucher told E&E last week. “I will ask them be defeated, as will Chairman Waxman.”

That doesn’t mean that Republicans aren’t going to try to drag this out as long as possible.

“Bring a sleeping bag,” warned Barton at the close of Monday’s meeting.