It looks like President Obama, the horse whisperer of American politics, is finally going to weigh neigh in to get the mudders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee galloping to the finish line.

For people who haven’t been paying close attention, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) keeps dropping bigger and bigger hints that President Obama is not going to get a climate bill on his desk this year (Reid: Senate to wait for House cap-and-trade bill, effectively delaying final bill until 2010. Here’s why that should be good news).

Reid was asked Friday what issue was his biggest concern from now until the 2010 elections. Greenwire (subs. req’d) reported his answer:

Global warming. … Health care is easier than this global warming stuff.

The bigger question now is — Can the House even pass its big energy and climate bill before the August break? There are two big reasons why that is no more than a 50-50 proposition right now — and one big reason why a final climate bill is all but inevitable. Let’s start with the first two reasons:

 

  1. The House Energy and Commerce committee is more conservative than the House as a whole, stacked as it is with members who represent major energy interests, which is the same thing as saying, stacked as it is with members who represent dirty energy interests. So negotiating a bill here ain’t easy. “This will just take as long as it takes,” Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a lead negotiator for the House moderates, told Greenwire.
  2. This bill will go through more than one committee — which is usually the Congressional equivalent of getting to your destination and realizing you left the oven on. House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) has said that he wants to insert his 2 (trillion) cents on the permit allocation issue by marking up legislation, too — in theory also in time for the Memorial Day recess, but that presupposes Waxman can stay on his timetable. Not likely.

Greenwire reports that there is not much evidence Waxman-Markey has got the votes to make it out of the subcommittee yet.

“I think it’s a real open question, don’t you?” Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) told reporters yesterday when asked about Democrats’ plans to mark up a bill in the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee….

Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the committee’s Democratic leaders, have pledged to finish their work on the legislation before the Memorial Day recess. Originally, Markey planned to hold a subcommittee markup this week, but he postponed that schedule to continue negotiations in search of the necessary votes.

… about a dozen moderate Democrats are still questioning the size and scope of a 648-page draft of the Waxman-Markey legislation. Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) told reporters earlier this week that he wanted Democratic committee leaders to schedule another hearing on the bill once they fill in a blank section from the draft that explains how to distribute emission credits among industries.Matheson said he is doubtful Democratic leaders can finish the legislation this month. “We’ve heard about Memorial Day,” he said. “I’ve always thought that was rather aggressive. This is a complicated bill. I think what’s going on now sort of validates that.”

Rep. Charles Gonzales (D-Texas), another swing-vote lawmaker on the subcommittee, credited Waxman and Markey for not pressing forward on a subcommittee vote before the time is right.

“I think the chairman just has to work on something that has a chance of passing,” Gonzales said. “I don’t think you can afford a false start. You have to have some measure of success here, and I think a lot of us are willing to move in that direction, recognizing the need of the legislation. But there has to be some movement.”

Another delay would not upset the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s more important to have a very strong, acceptable agreement,” said Tony Kreindler, the group’s spokesman.

Again, if the President and the congressional leadership take the extra time to develop a political and messaging strategy, then delay is good, as I’ve argued many times (see “Obama can get a better climate bill in 2010“).

The reason why a final bill is inevitable is that it is a top priority of president Obama and he is going to start using his political muscle, it appears, soon, rather than later. E&E News (subs. req’d) reports this morning.

President Obama will meet tomorrow at the White House with House Democrats who are struggling to reach consensus on a major energy and global warming bill.

A White House aide said the meeting between Obama and Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats is expected to cover a wide range of issues on the panel’s plate, including health care reform and the proposal to set a first-ever mandatory cap on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions….

“I think what he’s going to do is say, ‘Please, don’t vote no. Let’s see what we can work out,’” said Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), who will also visit today with Obama during a White House event to celebrate Cinco de Mayo — a day earlier than the actual holiday….

Some environmentalists and liberal committee members last week began clamoring for Obama to take a more public stance on global warming out of concern the Democratic-led Congress could stumble on an issue they struggled to get addressed for eight years during the Bush administration.

“I hope we’ll hear more from him on this topic,” Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said Thursday. “I think now would be a very good time.”

“I think right now Waxman is negotiating from a position that he doesn’t have leadership from Obama,” added Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA. “Right now, Obama can provide that. The question is: will he?”

White House officials last week insisted that Obama had been speaking forcefully on the climate issue, including an Earth Day speech where he cited Waxman’s work on a draft bill that lined up generally with the administration’s goals on global warming. “My hope is that this will be the vehicle through which we put this policy in effect,” Obama said during a visit to a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Newton, Iowa.

Obama’s top political and energy advisers, David Axelrod and Carol Browner, also spoke last week with key House and Senate committee members working on the cap-and-trade bill. The presentation was “just to map out an effective strategy to communicate to the American people why it is absolutely imperative that we need to address global warming,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who attended the meeting….

As they struggle to find the votes, rumors are flying about what Democratic leaders may need to do if they want to pass the legislation. One idea floating around Capitol Hill would see the climate bill bypassing Markey’s subcommittee and going straight to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. But this is not a favorite option for either side of the aisle.

“I think they have to start it at subcommittee,” said Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas). “To his credit, Ed Markey has had a good series of hearings. He deserves the right to try to mark up a bill in his subcommittee.”

Committee Democrats are also clamoring to see more details on the legislation. Green, for example, has said he wants another hearing on the bill once Waxman and Markey complete the provisions on how to distribute valuable emission credits among industry. Several lawmakers have said they will not commit one way or another with their vote until they can review that key section of the bill….

Meanwhile, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said yesterday he believes a climate bill can pass this year.

“What can we do this year? I want to see a bipartisan bill on health care. I want to us attack this issue of global warming and climate change, and to make sure that America is moving toward energy independence, green jobs in this new economy. Those are things we can accomplish,” Durbin said on Fox News Sunday.

Yes, long shots come in on the race track. In politics … not so much.

Bottom line: Notwithstanding Durbin’s comment, a bill will be on the President’s desk in 12 or so months.