WASHINGTON - Key Senate Democrats offered, during a White House meeting with President Barack Obama and skeptical Republicans on Tuesday, to scale back their ambitious plans to cap greenhouse gases across multiple sectors of the economy.
Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman told reporters after the 90-minute West Wing meeting that Obama held firm in his calls for a price on greenhouse gases. But they said the president acknowledged that he could agree to a more limited climate and energy bill than any the senators had previously drafted.
"We believe we have compromised significantly, and we're prepared to compromise further," Kerry said.
"The president was very clear about putting a price on carbon" and curbing greenhouse gases, he added.
Lieberman said a couple of Republicans in the meeting promised to keep talking about the prospect of a less-ambitious climate program that includes a price on carbon, though he wouldn't name names.
Kerry and Lieberman released a climate bill last month that capped greenhouse gases emitted by power plants, transportation and trade-sensitive manufacturers.
Reaction to their bill has been lukewarm, and the duo said they would keep talking to senators on both sides of the aisle during the coming weeks to try to find a deal that could win 60 Senate votes.
Asked whether a power plant-specific bill was in the cards, Kerry replied, "There are any number of varieties. That could be one of them."
Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman confirmed on Monday that he's drafting legislation to cap greenhouse gases just from power plants.
Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Judd Gregg, Richard Lugar, Lisa Murkowski, Olympia Snowe and George Voinovich also attended the White House meeting, but left with a very different message than their Democratic counterparts.
"We've got to take a national energy tax off the table in the middle of a recession," said Alexander, chairman of the Senate GOP Conference.
Gregg, who previously has backed emission limits just on power plants, urged Democratic leaders to focus solely on an energy bill that includes incentives for renewables, but no price on carbon emissions. "Our goal should be reducing our dependence on oil from people don't like us," he said.
Obama's meeting with the senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, ran overtime. It was originally scheduled to last less than an hour.
The White House press office also abruptly canceled a brief pool spray during which TV cameras and reporters were to be shuttled in for remarks by the president. White House officials said the cancellation was because of "scheduling considerations."
A White House statement released after the meeting acknowledged tensions in the room.
"The president told the senators that he still believes the best way for us to transition to a clean energy economy is with a bill that makes clean energy the profitable kind of energy for America's businesses by putting a price on pollution - because when companies pollute, they should be responsible for the costs to the environment and their contribution to climate change. Not all of the senators agreed with this approach, and the president welcomed other approaches and ideas that would take real steps to reduce our dependence on oil, create jobs, strengthen our national security and reduce the pollution in our atmosphere."
Obama indicated he saw "a strong foundation and consensus on some key policies.
"There was agreement on the sense of urgency required to move forward with legislation and the president is confident that we will be able to get something done this year," the White House added.