Cantwell underwhelmed by revised House bill

By Geof Koss | 05/25/2016 07:29 AM EDT

A key Senate Democrat is expressing a decidedly cool view of the House’s revised energy reform bill, which lawmakers are likely to vote on today ahead of a conference committee to merge versions from each chamber.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said yesterday she was concerned about House leaders adding a number of controversial bills to their energy reform package, H.R. 8.

"I wish they could do something besides legislation that has been already circled for veto pen action by the president," Cantwell told E&E Daily yesterday. "I don’t know who wants to discuss those."


The revised House package, cleared for floor debate by the Rules Committee yesterday, includes provisions addressing wildfire, critical minerals, the California drought, the America COMPETES Act and a sportmen’s package — all of which the White House has threatened to veto (E&E Daily, May 23).

The administration had also vowed to veto the earlier version of H.R. 8 should it reach the president’s desk. Cantwell called the developments "not a good way to start business."

She asked, "How does that help us get us energy policy that the House and Senate can agree on in bipartisan fashion? I’m pretty sure most of those things came out pretty partisan over there, whereas ours came out bipartisan, so we did the work of working together."

The House is expected to pass the new package, cobbled together from nearly three-dozen House measures, today, clearing the way for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to name conferees to negotiate with senators.

The chamber will consider the measure under a closed rule with no amendments. Rules Committee Republicans yesterday rejected a Democratic proposal for an open amendment process.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was not surprised by the House’s additions, which were meant to match corresponding provisions in the much broader Senate bill, S. 2012.

Murkowski downplayed the multiple veto threats pending against the revised House bill. "They’re going to veto the way that the House constructed them," she said of the White House, noting that the Senate’s critical minerals bill and sportsmen’s package did not encounter strong White House opposition.

"We ran similar initiatives, didn’t see a veto threat," she said. "I think our job is how we marry these up in a constructive way."

Once the House names conferees, Murkowski said the Senate would have to vote to go to conference. She said 60 votes would be necessary to overcome opposition.

The chairwoman said she was already talking to senators about supporting the move to conference, noting that the Senate’s bill contains contributions from many members from both parties.

Murkowski argues that a vote to go to conference is an opportunity to improve the final product. "I’d say give this a fair shot," she said.

The Alaskan Republican, who huddled with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his office before votes yesterday afternoon, said the timing of a Senate vote to go to conference was not yet clear.

The chamber is expected to take up the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill today, a debate that may stretch out past next week’s Memorial Day recess. To detour for a vote on going to conference with the House on energy would require consent from all 100 senators, Murkowski noted.

Murkowski acknowledged that the conference would be a tough slog but said she expected the Senate to rise to the occasion of the first formal energy legislation conference since 2005.

"Sometimes it’s hard and it takes a long time but that’s the way it is when you’re dealing with issues that are not necessarily black and white in terms of where people are coming from," she said.