The Senate’s top Democrat said yesterday he is still dedicated to spending valuable floor time this year on comprehensive climate and energy legislation, but the three sponsors of the plan may have to go member-by-member in order to deliver a package capable of mustering 60 votes.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he wants to bring the bill from Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to the floor later this spring or summer.

“We’re going to really try very hard,” Reid told reporters. Asked if the July 4th recess was his target for the floor debate, he said, “I don’t have a definite time. A lot is waiting until we get the bill. I’ve been pushing very hard to get the bill.”

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Looks like the most important environmental debate of our time very likely will, in fact, be happening this spring and summer, as this E&E Daily (subs. req’d) story today makes clear.

Lieberman says the bipartisan bill is still on track to be released next week:


Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are planning to release their bill (which is expected to place different emission limits on different sectors of the economy and expand domestic oil, gas and nuclear power production) next week to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22. “There’s some issues we’re closing out, discussing,” Lieberman said. “But we’re making progress, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re still on track to introduce next week.”

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The Senate trio’s path to 60 votes starts with a core of 41 supporters of climate legislation….

Getting to 60 votes, however, will not be easy:

Graham said he is not expecting all 60 votes to line up at once on the climate and energy bill, but he predicted the sponsors would get there eventually if enough industry and environmental groups sign off on an overall compromise.

“How you get to 60 votes is you get people creating a safety net for politicians,” Graham said. “A moderate Democrat or a Republican won’t be able to get on board I don’t think unless you have some business interests speaking out who have never spoken out before. Environmentalists are going to have to be comfortable enough to support the process. Not all of them, but some of them. We’re trying to create a safety net to get to 60 votes.”

The biggest subset of fence sitters includes 10 Democrats from states with a heavy reliance on coal, oil, natural gas and trade-sensitive industries. Senate aides acknowledge that Kerry, Graham and Lieberman are building their bill around this core group of Democrats, including Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Mark Begich of Alaska, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

To date, several of the fence sitters have praised the Kerry-led process but are waiting to see if what gets introduced comes close to meeting their demands — or whether it is even in the ballpark of what they can negotiate with.

Brown said in July that I’m not going to be part of a filibuster on climate change,”even if he can’t ultimately support the final bill.

The conventional wisdom in town is that a comprehensive bill has less than 50% chance of passing, but at least one fence sitter gives it better odds:

Begich said he has already gotten much of what he wanted when it comes to production of natural gas and oil drilling on the outer continental shelf, as well as revenue sharing for states that agree to offshore oil drilling. “Those three seem to be moving in the right direction,” Begich said, adding that he is waiting to see specifics on money for oil spill research and adaptation.

Asked if he thought the climate bill had a chance of passing the Senate, Begich said, “I’d give it a 60 percent shot out of 100, which is better than two months ago.”

The bill seem unlikely to get support from several Dems — Likely ‘no’ votes include some combination of Nelson, Lincoln, Bayh, Dorgan, Landrieu, and Webb.

So Moderate Republicans will be the key to this bill having any chance:

Moderate Republicans on the radar of sponsors and the White House include Murkowski and Sens. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, George LeMieux of Florida, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and George Voinovich of Ohio.

“There’s a path to five or six Republicans,” Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, Carol Browner, recently told The New York Times.

The Republicans have thus far sent mixed signals about what they expect from the legislative process.

Gregg, perhaps the biggest GOP target for climate authors, has said he wants to use revenue raised by the program to curb taxes. He also said he is focused on oil security. “My primary interest is in reducing our reliance on foreign energy sources and to stop exporting lots of capital that should be used here,” he said last month.

LeMieux, appointed last year by Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), has been urging the climate bill authors to emphasize nuclear power with faster licensing at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and push the commercial trucking industry toward natural gas.

Brown, elected in January, has sidestepped comment on the details of the climate proposal, though Kerry has said he has spoken with his new colleague on the issue.

Stay tuned for the Battle Royale.

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