House Democrats complete agenda

Pelosi unveils plan to reduce oil use, slow global warming

January 19, 2007|By Nicole Gaouette and Richard Simon | Nicole Gaouette and Richard Simon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- As the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives celebrated the completion of its populist 100-hour agenda yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled the party's next legislative target - an ambitious plan to wean the United States from foreign oil and slow global warming.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, said she intends to create a select panel to help craft the party's environmental agenda and has asked committee chairmen with jurisdiction over the issue to pass legislation "to truly declare our energy independence" by July Fourth.

The announcement came as Democrats completed their 100-hour agenda with passage of a bill that would repeal oil industry tax breaks and apply the estimated $14 billion in revenue over 10 years toward research on energy conservation and alternative fuels.

The legislation was the last of six bills that the Democrats have moved through the House in two weeks, including measures to increase the minimum wage, expand stem cell research, implement the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, authorize Medicare negotiations for lower drug prices and cut interest rates on some student loans.

Now, the hard part begins.

Even as Democratic leaders and freshmen clustered around Pelosi at a news conference to tout their accomplishment, rumbles from the slower-moving Senate signaled that the legislation will face resistance there.

Pelosi's plan to create the energy panel also was raising hackles among House Democrats who chair committees with jurisdiction on the matter, especially Rep. John D. Dingell, a veteran lawmaker from Michigan who looks out for the interests of Detroit automakers.

And while House Democrats backed the 100-hour agenda almost unanimously, cracks in the caucus could appear as Democrats turn to energy, health care and immigration, among other difficult issues.

Yesterday, though, Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat from Southern Maryland, stressed the positive and extolled the success of their agenda, which Hoyer's office calculated passed in 42 hours, 13 minutes and 28 seconds of legislative time.

The bill to repeal oil industry tax breaks was approved by a 264-123 vote, but that and the other 100-hour measures are far from becoming law.

President Bush has threatened to veto the stem cell bill, which would expand funding for research using embryonic stem cells, and the Medicare legislation. And though Democrats control the Senate, by a 51-to-49 majority, Republicans can use the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome, to kill legislation.

The compromises that might be required to get the House-passed bills through the Senate could strain ties between Democrats in the two chambers.

Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, has attached a package of small-business tax breaks to the bill increasing the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour, a move that will require House-Senate negotiations. The House bill did not include tax breaks, and the issue is already causing rifts between Democrats in the two chambers.

Senate Republicans also have expressed opposition to the House bills. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who helped write some of the tax breaks intended to encourage domestic oil and gas production, took aim yesterday at the legislation that would repeal them.

"It seems very strange to me that if you want to become less dependent on foreign oil, the first thing you would do in your first 100 hours is increase the taxes by 3 percentage points on all domestic production of oil and gas," Grassley said, accusing House Democrats of political posturing.

Although Pelosi might have little sway over Senate Republicans, she paid a pre-emptive visit to Senate Democrats yesterday afternoon in an effort to inspire cooperation between the two chambers and avoid the sort of internal bickering that contributed to GOP losses in the November elections.

Pelosi addressed about three dozen Senate Democrats at their weekly policy lunch. Her appearance, a rare move by a House speaker, was as symbolic as it was substantive - an attempt to continue her teamwork with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which helped Democrats take control of Congress.

Nicole Gaouette and Richard Simon write for the Los Angeles Times.

The First 100 Hours

Hours elapsed: 42 hours, 15 minutes

Bills passed:

Raising royalties and fees and repealing tax breaks for oil companies to provide an estimated $15 billion for developing renewable energy sources. Passed yesterday by a 264-163 vote, the legislation completes the sixth and last item on the House Democratic leadership's list of promises for the first 100 hours of the new Congress.

Cutting the interest rate charged for some student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over five years. The House approved the measure, which would be financed by reducing fees paid to banks, Wednesday night with just 17 dissenters.

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