Poltico reported this week:
President Barack Obama’s ambitious first-year agenda has some House Democrats fearing a repeat of 1994, when the priorities of a new president collided headfirst with the prerogatives of senior leaders on Capitol Hill and the party lost control of both the House and the Senate.
While few leaders would predict a similar collapse at this early stage in his presidency, those fears provided the backdrop for a leadership meeting Thursday in the speaker's Capitol conference room, people present said.
In the run-up to the meeting, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) argued in several newspaper interviews that the House should move cautiously on a cap-and-trade bill if it doesn’t look like the Senate will approve it. Van Hollen doesn’t want vulnerable House Democrats — especially the freshmen under his care — to be forced to take difficult votes on the measure if it’s not going to pass anyway.
But Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a 34-year veteran of the House who knocked off his longtime predecessor last fall to push an ambitious climate change bill, took umbrage with Van Hollen’s public stance during Thursday’s leadership meeting, people present said.
Brandishing an issue of that day’s CQ in which Van Hollen laid out the merits of holding off, an agitated Waxman reminded his junior colleague that raising procedural concerns in public didn’t make it any easier for the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman to broker a compromise with the members of his committee — or help him pass an ambitious bill in the House.
Van Hollen, who has offered his own bill to limit carbon emissions, argued that articles in CQ and elsewhere overstated his opposition to the cap-and-trade measure, people present said. But otherwise, he stuck to his guns.
Obama has outlined a hefty first-year agenda that includes health care reform, an upgrade of public education and an energy overhaul that would include a cap-and-trade measure — all on top of the president’s response to the global financial collapse and a potential Supreme Court fight. The question facing congressional Democrats is whether they can tackle all three at once or whether they should focus on one — most likely health care — to prevent legislative overload.
At Thursday’s meeting, Van Hollen argued that health care should be “first among equals.”
Responding to Waxman’s complaints, Van Hollen said he had a duty — as the head of the DCCC and as an assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged with coaching first-term Democrats — to advocate for the members who will be asked to cast the toughest votes on a potential climate change bill.
Still not swayed, Waxman said, “It’s not helpful.”
The other members present stayed silent during the exchange, and none of the bill’s potential critics, including Connecticut Rep. John Larson and California Rep. Dennis Cardoza, echoed Van Hollen’s concerns; instead, Cardoza, speaking on behalf of fellow moderates in the Blue Dog Coalition, told Waxman his colleagues were still open to supporting the bill, provided Waxman continues to listen to their concerns.
But most present saw the flare-up between Waxman and Van Hollen as the inevitable result of tension that had been building around the bill for months.
Van Hollen is my congressman. One of my wife's organizations was the first to endorse his candidacy for his first term. So, we're aquainted.