Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., together with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.
C., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said they would work with the White House to patch together a bill that could pass the Senate. Meanwhile, a key Senate committee was considering advancing the bill without Republican participation.
"Our effort is to try to reach out to broaden the base of support," Kerry said at an afternoon news conference. "The key here is to really negotiate once, in a sense."
Graham, who has come under fire in his home state for his support of action on climate change, said working on legislation was a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to solve two problems: heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution and the country's dependence on foreign sources of fuel.
"If environmental policy is not good business policy, you will not get 60 votes," Graham warned. "The green economy is coming. We can either follow or lead."
The announcement came as the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a second day delayed voting on any changes to a climate and energy bill introduced in late September by Kerry and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., because no Republicans showed up.
Democratic aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because the decision was not final, said that Democrats were considering advancing the bill out of committee without Republican participation.
Republican lawmakers are demanding a more thorough economic analysis of the measure, which would reduce heat-trapping gases by 83 percent by 2050, saying it will raise energy prices and cause job losses.
The legislation, which would set up a market for pollution permits, has also raised concerns among moderate Democrats, including Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Kerry, Graham and Lieberman stressed that their "dual track" for climate legislation would not usurp Boxer's efforts, or the work of five other committees that have jurisdiction over energy and climate policy.
"We are all working on a strategy to get a 60-vote bill written," said Boxer, who said that from the beginning she had asked Kerry and other senators to drum up support outside her committee.
To do so, the senators said they would take the best pieces of the Kerry-Boxer bill and add more incentives for nuclear power and offshore drilling that could bring some Republicans and moderate Democrats on board.
Tony Kreindler, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the three senators "have given a new life to a bipartisan process."
Left unanswered was how long the new process would take. Kerry said he would not be bound by a specific time frame. But with a month left until 192 nations gather in Copenhagen to hammer out a new international treaty to slow global warming, the Obama administration and Democrats are under pressure to show movement on a climate bill.
The House passed its version of the bill in June.
"This is the year that we've got to reach out to each other and get the 60 votes to get something done," said Lieberman. Lieberman co-authored a global warming bill last year along with former Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia and Boxer. The measure failed to get enough votes to advance on the Senate floor.