Are there 218 votes in the House of Representatives for clean energy and a healthier climate?
Kate Sheppard / GristWith a vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act expected on Friday or Saturday, supporters on Capitol Hill and in the environmental community are trying to determine if there are enough votes to pass it.
Democrats currently hold 254 seats, though it’s hard to get a firm count on how many of them are definite “yes” votes and whether there will be any Republicans who break ranks on this issue.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she expects the House will vote on the bill this week … and she said it won’t proceed to a final vote until the Democratic leadership is certain they have the votes to pass it. “We are working hard to bring it to the floor this week,” she said.
As for whether they have those votes, Pelosi said, “You never know until you take the vote, but we are making progress and I’m very pleased.” The Speaker also canceled a visit from former vice president Al Gore to talk to undecided legislators, saying that his presence was no longer needed. “We had a great narrowing of the undecideds yesterday,” she said.
Pelosi has assembled a team of nine “whips” for this legislation — House members who will meet with undecideds and try to convince them to move into the “yes” column. As of yesterday, the whips expressed optimism that the votes will be there.
“It’s tough sometimes to get to a hard ‘yes’ on an issue like this,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a member of the whip team. Doyle, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was a key broker on the bill’s industrial and manufacturing components.
“I don’t know that we’ll get to the point where you say we have 218 hard yeses,” he continued. “But I think we’re so close now, and there’s so many undecideds leaning ‘yes,’ that there’s a sense once you put it on the floor, they’re going to vote with us.”
“I don’t think anyone is willing to declare overwhelming victory yet, but there is a sense in the caucus that this thing is moving in the direction of passage,” he said. “I think the leadership feels good enough about it that they’re willing to put it on the floor.”
In addition to Doyle, the whips include Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Energy and Commerce Committee members Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), and Rick Boucher (D-Va.), and the bill’s authors, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Co-author Markey voiced similar optimism about the bill’s fate, and said supporters are being helped by the White House. Obama’s top climate and energy adviser, Carol Browner, has reportedly been making calls to House members, as has Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Obama himself made a public address in the Rose Garden on Thursday calling on the undecided members to support the bill.
“The White House is making it very clear that they want this bill to pass this week,” said Markey. “We are very confident that with the help of the White House and Speaker Pelosi that we will be able to move the legislation this week.”
Many undecided Democrats from farm states are expected to back the bill after Waxman and Markey reached a deal with Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) on Tuesday. But that’s not to say everyone is on board. There are a handful of Democrats displaying outright opposition to the bill, including Mike Ross (Ark.), who was one of only four Democrats to vote against it in committee. Ross issued a press release on Wednesday referring to the House bill as an “energy tax” and touting an alternative bill, the American-Made Energy Act of 2009, that he released this week.
On the left, two liberal Democrats — Pete DeFazio (Ore.) and Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) — may oppose the bill. DeFazio has argued that cap-and-trade is not an ideal policy for addressing climate change, while Kucinich has argued that the bill is too weak.
Estimates of Democrats still sitting on the fence run as high as 49. The undecideds include many Midwestern and Southern Democrats, freshman and sophomore members, and a small group of moderate Republicans. Pelosi herself has met with a number of those swing votes, and they are the key targets of her whip team.