The House of Representatives is on the verge of a historic achievement that seemed unlikely just a few months ago – passage of bipartisan comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that put the nation on a path to slash greenhouse gas emissions more than 80% in four decades.

One of the key coal-state Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), yesterday “predicted sponsors would have little trouble crossing the 218-vote threshold,” as E&E News PM (subs. req’d) put it. Boucher said, “I think we’ll do far better than that.”

While Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) continues negotiating with other committees, the most problematic being Agriculture chaired by Collin Peterson (D-MN), even Republicans are grudgingly coming around to acknowledging the inevitable. E&E Daily (subs. req’d) reports today:

My guess is they get to 218,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.). “I think they get there because this is such a priority for the Obama administration and the speaker. The leadership in this town is very much behind it. And I’ve been in the majority. When the leadership is all kind of coalesced around, they twist a few arms here and there to get to their required vote.

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And the bill now seems likely to get multiple GOP votes:

Only a handful of Republicans are considered “aye” votes when the legislation hits the floor, including Reps. Mary Bono Mack of California and New Jersey’s Frank LoBiondo and Chris Smith. A number of other GOP members remain on the fence….

Any wavering Republicans can also expect to hear from GOP leadership, especially if it looks like there is a chance that the party can defeat the bill on the floor.

“Only”? A few weeks again “any” GOP votes whatsoever would have been considered quite iffy. The GOP leadership hates everything about this bill and doesn’t believe in – or even understand – that global warming is the gravest preventable threat to the health and well-being of Americans:

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The fact that this bill may get a few GOP votes suggests that

  1. Many GOP members actually do understand this issue and the urgent need for action – and are willing to buck their leadership on it.
  2. Members increasingly see that the bill is going to pass and want to be on the right side of this historic and defining issue.

Let’s hope the momentum builds because the larger the vote in the House, the more pressure on the Senate and the greater the ability to avoid having the bill weakened in the Senate:

As for the Democrats, there is near universal agreement that they won’t begin the floor debate until they know for sure they have the votes – a strategy that House Republicans sometimes used when they were in the majority. “You can’t do that with one of the president’s signature pieces of legislation,” said a former House Democratic lawmaker who served in a leadership position.

Walden predicted that Democratic leaders will secure the necessary votes and then give a pass to a number of their own members who are nervous about the proposal. “They’ve got a big enough margin they can let the real vulnerables slip,” he said.

He added that the larger the majority, the better the chances of prompting action in the Senate. “Any time you roll out of any chamber with a big number, it puts pressure on the other chamber, or it gives relief,” Walden said.

Finally, Waxman at least still thinks the floor debate will be the week of June 22: “I still expect it to be before July Fourth.” I’d say the betting odds are under 50-50 on that.