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Senate Democrats Worry About Securing 60 Votes on Climate Bill

Senate Democratic leaders and chairmen emerged from a meeting on climate change Thursday with no decisions on how or whether to move forward with legislation this summer, with some saying there is little appetite among even the chairmen with jurisdiction over the issue to take on the politically dicey topic this year.

Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said the “dominant concern” in the meeting of six chairmen and five Members of the Senate leadership was whether Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) have 60 votes to beat back an expected filibuster of their bill to regulate greenhouse gases.

“What’s the point of doing anything without 60 votes?” Rockefeller asked. “I think there’s some feeling that you don’t spend time on the floor trying to figure out if you’ve got 60 votes. You have to understand before you go to the floor that you have 60 votes.”

He added there is some worry that the legislation could cause political problems for some vulnerable Members of the Democratic Conference. He said most of the participants at the meeting had concerns about embarking on a wide-ranging climate change debate this year, but he noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did not take a position. The Nevada Democrat is facing a tough re-election battle this fall.

Rockefeller, who was one of six Democrats to support a GOP attempt Thursday to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, said he does not believe Kerry has the votes to bring up his bill, but he added that Kerry disagrees.

Still, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said no decisions were made. “There will be a discussion in the caucus next week about our options,” he said about debate expected Tuesday. He declined to say what options would be presented.

Rockefeller said one discussed option involves bringing up an Energy and Natural Resources bill aimed at boosting the use of renewable and alternative energy sources, then allowing Kerry to offer his economy-wide climate change measure as an amendment. Kerry rejected that as an option Wednesday.

Sources familiar with the meeting said the gathering was not contentious and even had a familiar ring to it. At other regular gatherings of Democratic chairmen, Rockefeller, Energy Chairman Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) have often told Kerry and Lieberman that the Democratic Conference is unlikely to give them the votes they need and that Republicans are absent from the table.

Other participants in the meeting included Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.), Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.).

Reid has said he would like to have an energy debate sometime in July, and he held Thursday’s meeting to begin forming a strategy about crafting legislation that could pass in the Senate and about the kind of debate Democrats want to have.

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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