Updated: 4:48 p.m.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (Mass.), Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.) will face off Thursday over how and when to bring up energy and climate legislation, but aides sought to downplay any rivalry among Democrats as they prepare to make pitches to their caucus.
All are expected to give presentations on their respective bills, with Kerry and Cantwell pushing their differing versions of economy-wide climate change measure and Bingaman advocating for his committee’s smaller, energy-only measure aimed at increasing the use of renewable and alternative energy sources.
Democratic sources said the presentations are not meant to be confrontational and they noted that the two bills are not mutually exclusive. Still, the discussion will inevitably present a clear choice for the Democratic Caucus: whether to take on the politically dicey issue of climate change and capping greenhouse gas emissions, or to deal with an easier, bipartisan effort to boost green energy initiatives, several Democrats acknowledged.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he hopes to have an energy debate in July, but he has not been specific about which bill he would bring up. Either way, a version of an Energy panel bill would likely be included in any broader climate measure, sources said.
Bingaman has argued privately at biweekly meetings of Democratic chairmen that Kerry does not have the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster of any climate change measure. But Bingaman spokesman Bill Wicker said Bingaman has not been arguing for an energy-only approach on the floor, but merely wants to make sure his bill passes either as a stand-alone measure or as part of a bigger package.
“While he certainly would like to see the committee-reported bill … become law, Bingaman is not among those urging Sen. Reid to take up and pass an energy-only bill,” Wicker said in an e-mail. “As for climate, Bingaman remains open to any proposal that is workable, can gain the necessary level of bipartisan support, become law and lower U.S. carbon emissions.”
Meanwhile, Kerry spokesman Whitney Smith said the caucus meeting is intended as a discussion, not an either-or question.
“The Majority Leader’s working overtime to build a comprehensive climate and energy bill that starts with strong support in our caucus and a legislative strategy that finds 60 votes, and the caucus discussion is an important part of that process,” Smith said in an e-mail. “It’s a dialogue, not a debate. There’s widespread agreement among Democrats and many Republicans that we need to both send a price signal on carbon, reduce carbon pollution, and invest in clean energy jobs, and we’re all looking for the right formula to ensure legislative success this year.”
Cantwell, who has co-authored a bill with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), arguably has the only climate change measure with any GOP support, since Kerry lost the backing of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) earlier this year. Cantwell’s office could not be reached for comment as of press time.