Authors of a stalled Senate climate and energy bill Tuesday offered to compromise to break the logjam, but insisted after talks with President Barack Obama that it must put a price on carbon.
The White House said Obama remained confident a bill would pass this year, but his Republican foes offered no sign they would water down their opposition to an approach they have branded an "energy" tax on struggling consumers.
Obama is seeking to seize on the aftermath of the worst U.S. environmental disaster to create new momentum behind the bill, and called key players in the debate in the Senate to a White House meeting.
Democratic Senator John Kerry and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman emerged from the talks offering to tone down aspects of the bill in a bid to trigger movement after the legislation stalled amid bipartisan gridlock.
"Senator Lieberman and I ... we are trying to find the place of compromise here, all of us have to compromise," said Kerry.
"We believe we have already compromised significantly, but we are prepared to compromise further."
Lieberman said he believed that there had been a breakthrough during the meeting, saying some senators who are on the record as opposing the bill signaled willingness to embrace some limited cap-and-trade system.
The Connecticut lawmaker said the president had made a "very passionate" argument that the best way to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions was to force "polluters to pay and putting a price on carbon pollution."
But Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski emerged from the meeting saying Republicans would not water down opposition to a system in which polluting companies would buy and sell credits related to their level of pollution.
"The President mentioned, appropriately so, that the thing that Americans are thinking about first and foremost right now is jobs and the state of our economy," she said.
"That's why I believe that a cap-and-trade provision will not be included, because that is a hit to our economy that we simply cannot afford at this point in time."
Republicans argue that utilities would simply pass on the cost of a cap and trade system to consumers in a de-facto "energy tax" which would further slow the economic rebound.
In a statement after the meeting, the White House said 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 meeting also came as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia — a key U.S. oil supplier — paid a delayed visit to the White House.
The Kerry-Lieberman bill aims to cut greenhouse gases by 17 percent from 2005 levels.
Copyright 2010 AFP American Edition