03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Kerry, Graham, Lieberman Working On Weaker Climate Compromise

While Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) works to pass the Kerry-Boxer climate-change bill out of committee, her cosponsor is working on a compromise plan that he hopes can safely get 60 votes.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) announced Wednesday afternoon that he and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) are consulting with the White House not merely to get the executive branch's input on the Kerry-Boxer bill, but to help build a parallel bill that they will pass onto Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

This "dual-track" approach has the "full consent and support" of both Boxer and Reid, Kerry told reporters at a press conference. The compromise bill, the three senators said, could help Reid reconcile the six versions of Kerry-Boxer that ultimately clear the Senate committees with jurisdiction over the climate legislation.

"We will be working very, very closely with the administration and be fully respectful of all of the efforts made by each individual committee with jurisdiction in this area," said Kerry, who chairs one of them, the Foreign Relations Committee.

Another helpful factor, Kerry said, would be secrecy. Though Lieberman acknowledged after the press conference that they were discussing preliminary details with a "working group," the three senators declined to name any of the colleagues with whom they seek to build consensus. "We are not going to negotiate this publicly, day by day, drip by drip," Kerry said at the press conference, seeming to draw a contrast with the architects of health care reform.

So why announce they're working on a compromise bill at all? Lieberman said the senators were moved not by the ongoing Republican boycott of Boxer's committee, but by the nominal support of an as-yet-nonexistent compromise proposal by the Chamber of Commerce, which the Chamber announced Tuesday night.

"We think that's essential," Kerry said at Wednesday's press conference.

Graham, too, sought to frame the need for reform in terms of what he called a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for U.S. business interests, as well as energy independence and environmental protection.

"The green economy is coming," Graham said. "We can either follow or lead. And those countries that follow will pay a price."

Selling Republicans and business interests on a climate bill may require a lot of compromise from liberals, Graham acknowledged. "If you don't believe carbon pollution is a problem, then you wouldn't want to work with me, because I do," he said. "Remember 'Drill here, drill now?' Where did that go?"

The three senators met with Energy Secretary Steven Chu Wednesday morning, Lieberman said, though he declined to detail the conversation. He, Kerry and Graham are slated to meet Wednesday afternoon with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the White House's point person on climate change, Carol Browner.