Major lawmakers agreed Tuesday on a strategy for replacing gas-guzzling cars with more fuel-efficient models, but much tougher negotiations lie ahead on knotty issues such as pricing and capping greenhouse gas emissions from large companies.
President Barack Obama summoned to the White House 36 Democrats from the House of Representatives to urge agreement on climate and energy legislation that is under increasing criticism from Republicans and members of his own party.
Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee emerged from the meeting claiming a modest victory. They said they agreed to embrace a "cash for clunkers" plan that would provide money for people who replace old, low-efficiency cars with new, more fuel-efficient models.
The plan has considerable support from the auto industry and many Republicans, so it was not a major breakthrough. Still, House members cited it as an example of how their committee can reach consensus. But they acknowledged that tougher matters remain, and not all of them are strictly partisan.
"Many issues split along a regional basis," Democratic committee chairman Henry Waxman told reporters after the White House meeting.
Among them are Obama's "cap and trade" proposal to set a limit and price on greenhouse gas emissions and then allow corporations to buy and sell the rights to release gases believed to contribute to global warming.
Waxman said he wants the committee to wrap up a climate bill by May 25 so it can move to its other big priority: tackling Obama's proposal to revamp the nation's health care system.
Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey, also a Democrat, offered a draft bill in March that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with Obama's campaign proposal.
The committee has postponed writing a final version because of concerns raised by moderate Democrats about the cost.
Obama's budget expects to raise $650 billion by auctioning off permits to companies that release heat-trapping gases, with the bulk of the money going back to families to help with higher energy prices.
Democrats from coal and industrial states are pushing Waxman and Markey to distribute at least some of those industry permits for free to ease costs.
Meanwhile, House Republicans gathered at the Capitol for their own energy meeting to criticize the Waxman-Markey bill, which they said would create a national energy tax and hurt middle-class families and small businesses. Similar meetings are being planned this month in several major U.S. cities before Republicans offer their own plans to curb fossil fuel use and clean up the environment.
Republican Rep. Mike Pence said Tuesday the Republicans will look for commonsense solutions to lower energy costs, increase energy supply and create jobs.
Pence said the Democrats' plan would "kill jobs, raise taxes and lead to more government intrusion."
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of seven House members, including two Republicans on the Energy committee, unveiled rival legislation Tuesday.
The American Conservation and Clean Energy Independence Act, which is an update of a bill introduced last year, pays for the transition to cleaner energy sources using royalties from expanded oil and gas production offshore and on other federal lands.
At a news conference introducing the bill, Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie said progress on the Waxman-Markey bill, which would limit greenhouse gases by putting a price on heat-trapping pollution, was "essentially stalled."
"You can require, mandate until you turn blue," Abercrombie said. "If you don't finance it, you don't actually invest in it, you don't actually do it, you end up trading pollution. This (bill) is paid for."
Associated Press reporter Charles Babington contributed to this report.
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