The Senate’s consideration of legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline proceeded relatively smoothly yesterday, but some lawmakers are beginning to wonder whether they’ll have to turn up for an all-night session soon to eventually complete work on the bill, which is a top priority for the new Republican majority.
Today will bring a series of votes "throughout the day," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said from the floor yesterday, starting with six pending amendments that have been offered by both parties. However, there is no formal unanimous consent agreement to set up quick votes on those amendments, including two from Democrats declaring climate change is real and caused by human activity, so there is some question about how debate will proceed.
"It depends. I think we’d all like to have a vote-a-rama," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a lead co-sponsor of the KXL bill, using a Capitol Hill colloquialism for a lengthy vote series. "Let’s just stay here all night and do it."
A Republican senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that GOP leaders would not allow debate over the bill to linger indefinitely but said it remained to be seen how they would cut that off without abandoning the commitment to let Democrats get votes on their amendments. An all-night session could be one way to do that because it likely would persuade senators to agree to shortened debate timelines, drop largely symbolic amendments or agree to single votes on a group of similar items.
"I have always thought we would end up doing some late nights because, as you know, back in the old days, when we actually legislated around here, that’s the way you got things done," the GOP senator said.
Yesterday brought the first series of amendment votes to the KXL bill, S. 1, in a relatively smooth process that saw the overwhelming adoption of a modest, bipartisan energy efficiency amendment to the bill and near party-line votes to kill two Democratic amendments (E&ENews PM, Jan. 20).
Senators technically cast procedural votes to table the two Democratic amendments — Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey’s to block exports of KXL oil or refined products it goes into and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s to require that U.S. steel be used to build the pipeline. GOP aides said votes on such motions were commonplace to more quickly dispense with items.
Some Democrats said they were fine with that approach but acknowledged discussions were ongoing within the caucus as to whether they would agree to alternative arrangements — such as a 60-vote threshold to attach amendments to the underlying legislation itself.
"I don’t think there’s any confusion as this gets discussed, this is a vote on … barring exports and making them build the pipeline with American steel. I think voters see through a lot of this," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who is pursuing an amendment that would require Canadian oil sands producers to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
Some Republicans have previously agreed that the "loophole" sparing oil sands from the 8-cents-per-barrel tax to pay into the trust fund should be closed, but they have said that policy change should take place in the context of broader tax reform and not be tacked on to other measures (E&E Daily, Feb. 27, 2013).
Last week, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) offered an amendment that would have treated oil sands the same as other types of crude, with the caveat that the policy change be enacted only after a determination that it would not cause gasoline prices to increase.
Wyden said discussions were ongoing about how to proceed with the two amendments.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who has been a key player throughout the negotiations around the KXL bill, agreed that votes to table Democratic amendments were not a violation of McConnell’s pledge to return to regular order. Such votes, she said, were just as effective in letting Democrats get their message across.
"They don’t even want to discuss all of these important issues," she said. "So I think that record shows."
As for the endgame, Wyden and Boxer said it was unclear but that they would continue to push for votes beyond those currently in the queue. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), whose climate science amendment is pending today, earlier in the afternoon accused Republicans of "trying to weasel out of voting on" some controversial amendments.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the GOP whip, accused Democrats of trying to obstruct the process and suggested Republicans may eventually try to find a way around them.
"Right now, they’re sort of in this mindset that they don’t want us to be successful, and so we’re going to have to break through some of this by using procedural tools," Cornyn said yesterday evening, not long before McConnell said senators should expect a day of votes today. "Hopefully that won’t be necessary."