John Kerry on Tuesday called off the vultures swooping in on comprehensive climate and energy legislation, arguing that senators are closer than ever to sealing a deal.
"I'm excited. I know that's completely contrary to any conventional wisdom," he said, noting that he and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) met last night with members of the Obama administration to discuss progress on a bill. "We're on a short track here in terms of piecing together legislation." (The optimism about the legislation is so far outside the expectations of most Senate observers that one reporter muttered "Is John Kerry delusional?" following his remarks.)
His remarks come a day after Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who would oversee key portions of a climate and energy bill as chair of the Finance Committee, indicated that legislation doesn't stand much of a chance of moving this year.
"I'll have to talk to Sen. Baucus," Kerry told reporters. "I've talked to Max Baucus any number of times personally and he has said to me each time he wants to get it done."
But Kerry was still reticent to give a date that the senators may introduce a bill, or even any indication of what that final bill might look like. "I'm not going into detail about what's in the bill," he said at an event at the National Press Club. "I just tell you it's comprehensive," he said, adding that "it will be different than anything that has been put on the table in the House or Senate to date."
The key sticking point, Kerry said, remains the method the bill will use to price carbon, and "every mechanism that's out there" remains on the table. Other essential elements for a deal, like nuclear power provisions, are important for "opening up some conversations" with senators, he said, but, "I don't think it's going to be the clincher for a final bill."
The White House also expressed enthusiasm about where Kerry's negotiations are heading. Asked whether the White House would offer specific legislative proposals on climate and energy, as it did yesterday on health care following months of stalemate, Carol Browner, special adviser on climate change and energy, said the Obama administration has no plans to put forward legislation proposals. "We think the work going on on the Hill is going at a nice speed, and we are going to continue to work with those folks," said Browner.
She also downplayed accusations that Obama and his administration have not done enough to prioritize climate and energy legislation. "In virtually every public appearance of the president he mentions these issues, he calls on Congress to do this," said Browner. "I think we have been abundantly clear about our desire for comprehensive legislation."