I interviewed two members of the Texas congressional delegation, Gene Green and Chet Edwards, both Democrats, during a recent trip to Washington that was more for personal reasons than business. Both Green and Edwards thought the leadership made a mistake by taking up the global warming bill before health care. “A lot of House members think it was wrong to do energy first,” Green said. “Polling it, it [global warming] is not a big issue in my district. Air quality is a big issue.” He was particularly annoyed that multinational energy corporations get a better deal from the European community than from our own Congress. Edwards said of the emphasis on energy, “It was a mistake. Why would you put a bill whose impact is 20 years from now ahead of a bill that deals with a system [health care] that is unsustainable now?” The decision to go with energy was made by Nancy Pelosi — it was her top priority — and by Obama, who wanted to have talking points at the G-8 conference. Green’s district includes the industrial area of Houston, including five refineries. Under the bill that the House passed, refineries will have to buy carbon credits for their own emissions, and, starting in 2014, will need more credits to pay for emissions from mobile sources — that is, automobiles. Refineries will have to purchase a carbon credit for every gallon of gasoline that they produce. The bill’s treatment of ethanol could put gasoline at a competitive disadvantage, but the Blue Dogs in the Energy and Commerce committee won support for a provision that will allow refineries to get half of their carbon credits for free in 2014. However, coal state Democrats won even bigger concessions. Natural gas, as a cleaner burning fuel, benefits under the bill, which is good for Texas. Green serves on the Foreign Affairs committee and on a subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes Latin America. On a trip to Bolivia, he spoke with the president, who complained that the United States was not controlling emissions. One of the first things Green had noted upon his arrival was a giant plume of smoke from burning tires. “Bolivia has a lot of problems,” he told me, “and I don’t think carbon emissions in the United States is very high on their list. Issues like energy and health care bring out the fault lines in the Democratic caucus. “There are two numbers I mentioned to the president when the Budget Committee Democrats met with him,” Edwards told me. “One is 49. That is how many Democrats in the House were elected from districts Obama did not carry. The other is 37. That is the number of votes you can lose and still have a majority.” The White House expects Democrats to fall in line, but, Edwards said, “Democrats from swing districts can only fall on their swords so many times.” He told me that some Democratic members who went home for Fourth of July celebrations were booed by their constituents for voting for the energy bill. For all the appearance of a solid Democratic majority (256-178), the reality is considerably different. The Blue Dogs, a coalition of 52 fiscally conservative Democrats from districts that are typically rural, southern, or both, hold the balance of power in the House. “There are seven Blue Dogs on Energy and Commerce,” Green told me. “They can stop a bill [by voting with the Republicans].” Looking toward 2010, Edwards said, “Republicans are motivated by the hope that Democrats are overreaching. They aren’t proposing anything. If the economy is on the upswing, 2010 will be bad for them.” As for his personal prospects, he typically runs better in off-years than in presidential years, when straight-ticket Republicans turn out. He has $869,000 in cash on hand. Edwards voted against the energy bill, and the reasons he gives on his web site is that would increase utility and gasoline bills; that the bill was rushed through, and that it could lead to more speculation on Wall Street. That was a significant vote for Edwards, who is close to the Democratic leadership. Green, meanwhile, described himself as “on the other side” on health care. This is not a smoothly functioning machine. Edwards is chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. One thing that the Democrats have done well is pass budget bills — 11 of 12 so far, with only a defense bill remaining. Appropriations is one of the few policy areas that is still bipartisan. In the past, the majority party has allowed unlimited amendments, but the detente broke down this year when Republicans offered a number of amendments — 127 in all — to various budget bills in an effort to make Democrats cast some difficult votes. The Democratic-controlled Rules committee responded by refusing to allow unlimited amendments. But Edwards’ own military construction bill that came out of his subcommittee passed 412-3. I left the Rayburn Building with a strong sense that Democrats are increasingly uneasy over the course of events. “There is a growing concern among moderate Democrats,” Edwards observed. “They wanted change, but not too much change.” * * * * I want to add one thing to this report. On the day of my interview with Chet Edwards, he passed a bill establishing the Waco Mammoth National Monument as part of the National Park System. The site, which is not far from the north bank of the Brazos, is the largest known concentration in the world of prehistoric mammoths dying from the same event. Twenty-four Columbian mammoths including articulated skeletons, a giant tortoise, and a camel have been discovered, and the potential for future mammoth discoveries is high with research activities ongoing at the 109 acre site. (I’m quoting here from Edwards’ floor speech.) Texas has very few natural attractions in the National Park System. Big Bend National Park … Padre Island National Seashore … Guadalupe Mountains National Park … Big Thicket National Preserve. Big Bend is fabulous, one of the great national parks, and one of the few with accessible back-country roads. Guadalupe Mountains has some terrific scenery (El Capitan) but few facilities. Texas has only one national monument at the present time, and I doubt that one in a hundred readers knows what or where it is (unless you live in Amarillo). It’s the Alibates Flint Quarries, a gathering place for Indians from 10,000 B.C. to around 6,000 B.C. in search of an essential raw material. The mammoth site, the discovery of which occurred quite recently (1978), will be the second. The National Park Service is one federal agency that knows what it is doing. This will be worth visiting.
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