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Climate bill showdown as Obama presses hard

Image: cooling towers
The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Spring City, Tenn., operates one of 104 commercial reactors in the United States. A climate bill before the House would allow the nuclear industry to seek loans from a "green" energy fund.Anonymous / Tennessee Valley Authority via AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama pushed urgently Thursday for passage of legislation to confront global warming, billing it as a job-creating machine rather than the costly "job killer" Republicans have been denouncing. He telephoned wavering Democrats on the eve of what could be a historic vote in the House of Representatives.

Speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House, Obama said the United States must not miss the opportunity to work on cleaning the air, creating new "green" energy jobs and moving the nation away from its reliance on fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas.

The White House appeared worried that momentum for the bill might be slipping, although White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that when it came time for a House showdown, "I'd bet on the president."

Democratic leaders scurried to line up enough votes to get the bill passed. They enlisted former Vice President Al Gore, the country's most prominent voice on the urgency of dealing with climate change, to make phone calls to wary lawmakers — including some who believe the House bill was too weak rather than too strong.

House Republicans for weeks have maintained a drumbeat against the legislation, calling it a massive energy tax on every American and a "job killer" because it will force higher prices on electricity, gasoline and other energy sources as the economy shifts from cheaper fossil fuels, or as companies and utilities are forced to buy pollution allowances.

'Close vote because of misinformation'
Obama as well as the Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, sought to counter that argument.

"This is going to be a close vote because of misinformation out there that there's somehow a contradiction between clean energy and economic growth," said Obama. Rather than emphasizing any impact on pollution or global warming, he called the House legislation "a jobs bill" that will lead to the creation of new industries and "finally make clean energy a profitable kind of energy."

"It will create millions of new jobs," echoed Pelosi at a Capitol Hill press conference.

By late Thursday it still was unclear whether Pelosi, who has been courting moderate Republicans as well as fellow Democrats in the search for votes, had the 218 lawmakers she needed to get the bill passed. It is widely expected that if she is not certain of having a majority, she will not allow a vote Friday.

Meanwhile, 241 proposed amendments, most by Republicans seeking to scuttle the bill, were submitted for consideration, although most likely will be rejected by the House Rules Committee working into the evening Thursday. Exchanges before the panel provided a hint of the tone of the upcoming floor debate.

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, one of the chief sponsors of the bill, told the committee the bill "takes a balanced approach" and is supported by many in industry as well as environmentalists.

"It would radically change America as we know it," countered Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican. "It would mean the elimination of all fossil fuels used in America by the year 2050."

Waiting for the House to act
The Senate, meanwhile, was waiting for the House to act. Approval of a climate bill in the Senate has been viewed as a long shot because it would require 60 votes to overcome a delaying tactics that the Republicans are certain to use. That has made a decision by some House Democrats to vote for the politically charged bill even harder since final passage is so much in doubt.

The legislation would require the country to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that can lead to climate change — 17 percent by 2020 and about 80 percent by the next century. To do that, electricity producers and industrial plants would have to make dramatic shifts away from the use of fossil fuels through increased efficiency, move toward greater use of renewable energy or pay for ways to capture carbon emissions.

Democrats have sought to limit the economic impact with provisions that would make available pollution allowances to utilities and energy-intensive industries and protect low-income consumers from higher energy costs by providing them rebates and credits.

But some Democratic lawmakers, from regions where utilities and factories rely heavily on coal, remain worried about higher energy prices and the impact that might have on voters.

Still other Democrats complain the bill has been watered down too much with concessions to garner broader support. Gore was said to be making calls from his home in Tennessee to shore up support among those lawmakers as well as others still on the fence.

Obama calling on lawmakers too
Gibbs said Obama was calling lawmakers, too, although he would not give any names. Carol Browner, the White House coordinator on energy and climate, also was on the phone to members of Congress, as was White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel.

Lobbying on both sides of the issue intensified this week as Pelosi said she wanted a bill finished before lawmakers left for the July 4 holiday recess.

While most environmental groups as well as a number of business organizations and corporations have endorsed the bill, other industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have urged its defeat. Despite the concession to farmers, the American Farm Bureau Federation said Wednesday it remains opposed, calling the bill "seriously flawed."

"What we see is a job killer. ... There's no question that cap and trade will cost millions of jobs," said House Republican whip Eric Cantor, seeking to rally opposition to the bill. In the U.S. Congress, the whip is the party official in charge of party discipline.

"There's no question the cap-and-trade will cost millions of jobs" and higher energy prices, Cantor said.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll said three-quarters of Americans think the federal government should regulate the release of greenhouse gases, and 56 percent say they would approve such measures even if it increased their monthly electricity costs by $10.