Democrats Are Fast-Tracking Nearly 1,000-Page 'Cap-and-Trade' Bill That Would Increase Electricity Bills

By Matt Cover | May 18, 2009 | 5:39 PM EDT

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.)

( – Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee put their cap and trade global warming bill--that would increase U.S. energy prices, including electricity bills--on the fast track Monday. Republicans, meanwhile, are complaining that the expedited process is designed to avoid well-informed public debate about what the bill will do and its consequences for American consumers.
Spearheaded by committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Democrats hope to have a vote on the nearly 1,000 page bill by the end of the week, despite the fact that they only released a draft copy of the bill Friday--a day when many members of Congress had already left the Capitol.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, accused the majority of ramming through legislation that neither lawmakers nor their constituents fully understand in an effort to skirt serious debate on the substance of the proposal.
“The majority’s motto: Pass it now! Explain it later,” Barton criticized May 14.
“With just the barest smidgen of obfuscation, our majority colleagues can rise proudly to the challenge of global warming by moving out smartly, before a suspicious public takes notice and well ahead of any consultation with voters.”
Barton’s comments came after Democrats did not introduce the bill in the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, where the concerns of industrial state Democrats would have been heard in public. Instead, Democratic leaders Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) decided to work behind closed doors.
Barton cited a Rasmussen poll from May 11 that showed a public largely ignorant of what cap and trade is.
The poll showed that only 24 percent of voters could correctly identify that cap and trade is an environmental policy. Twenty-nine percent thought it dealt with Wall Street, and 17 percent thought it was health care reform. Thirty percent had no idea what the term means.
Waxman, in a memo sent Sunday, told members that he wanted the bill out of committee by Thursday, allowing only four days to debate a 1,000-page bill which would mean higher energy prices and a reduction in income for 80 percent of Americans, according to a May 7 Congressional Budget Office report.
“My goal is to conclude consideration of the legislation on Thursday, May 21.” Waxman wrote. “Members should be prepared to work late on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.”
The bill would require drastic cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, cutting emissions across the entire economy to 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2050, meaning that the economy would be forced to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 83 percent by 2050.
In a compromise with industrial-state Democrats, Waxman and Markey agreed to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to distribute – rather than auction – emissions caps to energy-intensive industries.
Under this proposal, electricity producers would be given 35 percent of the caps, natural gas companies would get nine percent, five percent would go toward combating international deforestation, and 10 percent would go toward the states.
In all, 85 percent of the caps would be given away by the government, in direct opposition to President Obama’s plan, which called for 100 percent of the caps to be auctioned. Obama had planned to use to proceeds – a CBO-estimated $629 billion – to pay for his Making Work Pay and other tax credit programs.
Under the Democratic compromise, 15 percent of the caps would be auctioned, with the proceeds going toward low- and moderate-income households to help offset the inevitable rise in energy prices.
Waxman said the choice between a robust economy and clean energy was false, saying that Republican warnings about the bill’s negative economic consequences were nothing but “doomsday predictions.”
Republicans, he said, “will argue that this bill will undermine our economy. (They) will claim that there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and clean energy. That is a false choice. Our economic prosperity and a clean energy future are inextricably linked. We have seen these same doomsday predictions before,” Waxman said in his opening statement.
Barton argued that the environmental benefit was minimal while the economic damage could be massive, saying Republicans had an alternative plan that would both clean the environment and grow the economy.
“We know the cost is significant. We know the environmental benefit is basically nonexistent. The Republicans are going to have a number of amendments. We’re going to have a complete substitute that we released Thursday that I’ll offer at the appropriate time,” Barton said.
“Our substitute does not have cap and trade in it. Our substitute does have a renewable, clean energy standard. We believe that if enough members of the majority will join us, we will offer an amendment that could pass, wouldn’t wreck the economy, would have some economic benefits and wouldn’t do any environmental harm,” Barton explained.