I think Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Waxman (D-Calif.) may be making both a strategic and a tactical mistake in pushing to get a climate bill out of committee by Memorial Day. I say this as someone who was delighted that Waxman defeated Dingell for the chairmanship.

Strategically, as an extended must-read analysis in E&E Daily ($ub. req’d, reprinted below) explains:

in the Energy and Commerce Committee, it is often stated that a legislative victory there foretells success when the bill reaches the entire House. “If you do it in committee, I think you do a huge amount of what you need to do for the floor,” said Manik Roy, vice president of federal outreach at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Obama isn’t going to see a climate bill on his desk this year (see here). Even Speaker Pelosi was originally skeptical the House would pass cap-and-trade this year.

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Obama certainly isn’t going to devote a lot of time and political effort to raising the issue’s profile in the next three months — nor should he.

So why push such an important and difficult vote before the ground has been laid for it, when you will be operating with one hand tied behind your back? At a time when the administration, public, and media are focused squarely on the greatest economic mess since the Great Depression? Even if Waxman succeeds under such circumstances, he may be stuck with a weaker bill than he otherwise could have gotten.

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I will explore what I see as Waxman’s tactical mistake — trying to put energy legislation into his climate bill — in a later post.

Here is the full E&E Daily story:

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The House has long been quiet on global warming. But that’s about to change.

Democratic leaders envision a fast-paced year of debate on curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, starting with dozens of hearings and a markup before the Memorial Day recess on a comprehensive climate and energy policy bill in the Energy and Commerce Committee, led by new Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — after an outcry from environmentalists — has promised a first-ever floor vote in 2009 on cap-and-trade legislation. Pelosi cited Waxman’s commitment to establish a price on carbon-based fossil fuels despite the otherwise heavy legislative agenda focused on the U.S. economic recovery.

More important, Democrats now have White House support for action on climate change. President Obama supports cap and trade as a principle ingredient to a new U.S. climate policy that he hopes to hold up during U.N.-led climate negotiations scheduled for December in Copenhagen.

Yet even with their eyes on a historic floor debate later this year, Pelosi and Waxman are largely working from a blank slate, a big contrast from their Senate colleagues who have taken three floor votes on cap and trade over the last seven years. Advocates in the House have some serious educating — and negotiating — to do to get their fellow lawmakers ready for a full-fledged climate and energy battle. And it will not be easy.

Looking down the road, cap-and-trade advocates would appear to have the inside track on passing a bill given the size of the Democratic majority (253-178, with two vacancies). Across the aisle, a few Republicans have already sized up the political landscape and see Obama and the Democrats eventually pulling it off.

“If Barack Obama is pushing for it, and Nancy Pelosi is pushing for it, and [Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman] Barbara Boxer is pushing for it and Henry Waxman is pushing for it, it probably happens,” said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the former majority whip. “But that doesn’t mean it happens in the right way, or the right time frame.”

Environmentalists have been preparing for this moment for years. Several green groups consult their own private whip charts that break members up into different shades of “yes,” “maybe” and “no.” The Environmental Defense Fund has lobbied between 200 and 300 Democratic and Republican House members on the cap-and-trade debate.

E&E Daily also has projections on how a cap-and-trade bill will fare in the House, an analysis based on interviews with dozens of Democratic and GOP sources, as well as past environmental votes and cosponsorships of several previous cap-and-trade proposals written by Waxman, and Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), John Olver (D-Mass.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Thomas Petri (R-Wis.) and former Rep. — now Sen. — Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

To start, E&E’s analysis shows supporters can count on a core group of 163 lawmakers in the “yes” column. This is a group made up almost entirely of Democrats who think a climate bill must adhere to some key fundamentals, including that it measure up to the scientific warnings about global warming. Members include Waxman, Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Reps. George Miller of California and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.

Next comes the fence sitters, a group of 126 lawmakers with a significant number of concerns about how the bill will affect the U.S. economy and keep energy and fuel prices at sustainable levels. Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rick Boucher (D-Va.), the former leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stand out as the most prominent members of this group, which includes large voting blocs from the electoral battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Michigan.

It is members from this group whom Pelosi, Waxman and other climate advocates must work if they want to pass climate legislation. In an interview last week, Waxman acknowledged as much. “We’re going to reach out to Republicans and Democrats from all over the country to deal with this national and international problem,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a partisan issue. We’re hoping to develop as broad a consensus as possible, both in the committee and in the House.”

As they woo the fence sitters, Pelosi and her whip team can reach the all-important 218 threshold by following any number of strategies. For one, they could choose just to lobby their own. Most of the maybes are Democrats (97). And they also are largely from states that Obama won in last November’s election (91).

But the fence sitters are not likely to swing to the “yes” column without some concessions. Depending on how it is written, a climate bill could be costly, which does not bode well for the 32 members in the fence sitter column who also are part of the Democratic Blue Dog coalition, a group of fiscal conservatives.

The fence sitter category also includes a sizable number of lawmakers (56) who won their 2008 races with less than 60 percent of the vote — making their position on a controversial issue like climate change all the more important as they face voters again in less than two years. The fence sitters also include 34 first-term Democrats and Republicans, a disproportionate share of the 56-member freshman class in the 111th Congress.

Both book ends to the climate debate deserve scrutiny as well, including Democrats who support aggressive greenhouse gas targets but could get turned off by their own leadership’s compromises, as well as rank-and-file Republicans who wince at the prospect of the Obama administration writing climate regulations under Supreme Court prec
edent from Massachusetts v. EPA.

Considering those dynamics, most vote counters say Pelosi and Boxer will have plenty of work to do before they can start planning for a White House signing ceremony.

“That last little bit to accomplish your goal is hardest,” said David Goldston, former Republican staff director for the House Science Committee. “To be 40 or 50 short on an issue like this, no matter the pool, that’s a heavy lift.”

Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) said he questions whether cap-and-trade sponsors will be successful considering there are almost 100 House Democrats who do not begin the year in the “yes” column. “As soon as you’ve lost that many of the majority in lock step, you have a problem,” Issa said.

Waxman does have the experience factor on his side. The 18-term congressman is likely to quarterback the climate bill when it hits the floor. And he will bring with him legislative skills renown on Capitol Hill, plus a staff led by longtime adviser Phil Barnett, and counselors Greg Dotson, Alexandra Teitz and Lorie Schmidt. Also working on Waxman’s side is Phil Schiliro, the congressman’s former chief of staff who is now serving as Obama’s top congressional liaison.

“There are few people as astute as those guys,” said Goldston, a visiting lecturer at Harvard University’s Center for the Environment. “They’ll know what they’re getting into.”

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.