Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is planning a high-risk, high-stakes strategy for bringing climate and energy legislation to the floor ahead of the August recess.
The gamble: yoking a bipartisan, fast-track measure to overhaul offshore drilling rules with a broad, contentious bill capping greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise would have almost no chance of passage on its own.
Reidâ€™s own Democrats are mixed on the strategy for notching 60 votes. Some argue that public perception of fossil fuels in the wake of the BP oil spill will sway enough of the partyâ€™s swing votes and open Republicans to attack if they oppose the measure as their reelection campaigns head into the homestretch.
â€œRepublicans are not supporting virtually anything to transform our energy system,â€ said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). â€œThatâ€™s not what the American people want. So I think you bring forth a strong bill, you rally the American people and I think the Republicans will respond as a result of that.â€
Thus far, Reid canâ€™t count on all Democrats coalescing around this approach. Several say they are fearful that hitching a popular oil reform bill to a big, unwieldy climate plan will just sink legislation that could otherwise serve as a quick, easy and politically popular win.
One leading Democrat whoâ€™s wary of Reidâ€™s strategy is the leader of the partyâ€™s 2010 Senate campaign committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
â€œI think we should do them separately,â€ he said. â€œThe oil regulation bill is moving fast and has a lot of support.â€
Reid on Thursday offered broad-brush details of his legislative plans in remarks to reporters after an hourlong closed-door meeting with all 59 members of the Democratic Caucus. Senate sources said about 20 senators in the room spoke in favor of carbon limits. Reid afterward called the meeting â€œinspirationalâ€ and signaled he had no plans to sidestep the controversial concept.
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