Henry Waxman has had just about enough. The House Energy and Commerce Committee's climate-change bill has been besieged by hundreds of (mostly Republican) amendments all week. Waxman, the committee's chairman, is giving them until the end of Thursday to keep playing around, he told the Huffington Post on Wednesday afternoon.
"They're offering a lot of amendments," Waxman said of committee Republicans, who primarily sought to add giveaways for the coal, hydro and nuclear power industries Wednesday morning. "Some are to try to make political points. They've developed certain themes and they're trying to advance these political themes with many of the amendments they're offering."
House Republicans, for example, called for the word "source" to be replaced with "emission point," going a little gentler on coal plants. Fine, said Democrats. The House GOP is fixated on China and India's climate change policy, and has been trying all week to write them into the bill somehow. On Wednesday, they got their way. The EPA chief will be required to brief members of Congress on China and India's policy once a year.
"I mean, their plan is to try and shut down the process, but I think the signal they're sending is that they're not interested in tackling the nation's energy challenges," said Chris Van Hollen, a member of House leadership who authored a separate climate-change bill.
Still, Waxman (D-Calif.) and Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Democrats will adhere to procedural rules and debate as many amendments as possible. "We may just kind of wait for fatigue to set in," Van Hollen said.
Though many of the amendments have passed with a simple voice vote, the committee spent more than an hour and a half debating the first amendment on its agenda Wednesday: a proposal by Florida Republican Cliff Stearns that sought to allow states to count energy from new nuclear plants toward their renewable energy quotas.
In the wake of a bitterly contentious 14-hour marathon session that ran late into Tuesday night, committee members voiced a desire to keep things more civil during Wednesday's markup meeting. That didn't quite happen.
Much of the early debate was built on compromise, but charges of "socialism" and "political games" were flying freely from the right side of the aisle well before the committee's midday voting recess. Illinois Republican John Shimkus dusted off Lloyd Bentsen's "Jack Kennedy" line, substituting Exelon Corp. CEO John Rowe, to a smattering of groans.
Toward the end of debate on his amendment, Stearns mockingly implored committee Democrats to break with their party on nuclear power. When Pennsylvania Democrat Mike Doyle replied that he could count on one finger the number of times Stearns had broken with Republican leadership, the room erupted momentarily into a chorus of shouts, broken by laughter when someone quipped, "Which finger?"
Missouri Republican Roy Blunt suggested that a prime motivation for amendments like Stearns' was that his party had essentially been shut out of discussion regarding the bill, and argued that hydro and nuclear power in particular should be considered renewable forms of energy. "Whereas nuclear and hydro are very clean, and very efficient, and very efficacious, they are not new," Washington Democrat Jay Inslee countered. Waxman said Democrats worked out figures and compromises with emergent-industry representatives rather than the opposition party.
Shortly before putting the Stearns Amendment to a vote, Ranking Committee Member Joe Barton (R-Texas) lauded the tone of the debate as an improvement over Tuesday's session. "That finger thing will probably get on YouTube," he said.
But it was Stearns himself who best summed up the ongoing process -- if inadvertently. "You know," he said, "sometimes in debate you can talk too much, but let me just make three points ..."
Reporting contributed by Ryan Grim.