Republicans and Democrats remained at odds yesterday evening over how many energy votes the Senate would hold this week and what subjects they would cover, even as the upper chamber plans a procedural vote this morning to formally begin what could be the most significant week of energy legislating the upper chamber has seen in seven years.
Senators are scheduled to vote this morning on a motion to proceed to S. 2262, the energy efficiency bill from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that has become a magnet for all manner of energy-related amendments. Party leaders and their surrogates continue to negotiate an agreement to limit the total number of amendments that could be considered this week, but there is substantial pent-up demand for such measures, given that the Senate has not passed a major energy bill since 2007.
Enough Republicans are expected to back the motion to proceed to keep the bill moving, but most GOP senators have not guaranteed they would vote to end a potential filibuster of the bill without securing a sufficient number of amendment votes.
Topping Republicans' amendment wish list is a measure from Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. A total of 56 senators are co-sponsoring the measure, but it appears to be stuck short of the 60 votes that would be required to clear a filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also is working to keep a KXL vote separate from the Shaheen-Portman bill, offering to put the Hoeven-Landrieu bill to a stand-alone vote rather than seek to attach it as an amendment to the efficiency bill.
Reid also is said to be resisting other amendment requests, but Republicans are seeking at least three other amendment votes, according to a GOP aide involved in the process. Those are on measures to speed up exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), to insist on a "point of order" that would prevent Congress from implementing a carbon tax and to enact a House bill from Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) that would hamstring U.S. EPA greenhouse gas limits on power plants. A Senate version of the EPA bill has been introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Hoeven predicted in an interview last night that Republicans would provide the votes necessary to open debate on the efficiency bill, but "the issue is whether we'll vote to get off the bill if we don't have agreement on" the four major amendments, including KXL.
The North Dakotan acknowledged that, as of this morning, he has 57 votes for his pipeline provision. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) is the only majority-party member confirmed to have shifted to a "yes" vote on KXL.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), among a half-dozen targets of heavy lobbying from both sides, said yesterday he is still "looking at" the issue. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) also reiterated yesterday that he remained undecided, saying he needed to study the text of the proposal.
Republicans also remain split on whether the KXL vote should happen as an amendment or stand-alone measure. Hoeven has said he would be fine with a stand-alone, but he has faced resistance from members of his party's leadership, including Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Republican Conference.
Pursuing KXL as an amendment to Shaheen-Portman "maximizes the opportunity we have, I think at least, to make sure we get a good vote on that," Thune told E&E Daily in a brief interview yesterday.
"I think if it's in the context of the broader energy bill, the Democrats are interested in the broader energy bill," he added. "It improves, in my view, the probability that we get the outcome we want."
Speaking briefly with reporters yesterday evening, Reid predicted he would have enough ayes for the procedural vote to get onto the Shaheen-Portman bill but was unsure whether he would be able to eventually end debate. He accused Republicans of playing a "shell game" with their amendment requests.
"Every night, it's something new," he said.
However, Republican aides have said their list of requests has remained largely unchanged since last week. In fact, they seem to have budged at least a bit, seeking four total amendments instead of five that had been the goal previously.
Whether any of the other GOP-priority measures would have enough support to be attached to the Shaheen-Portman bill remains to be seen, but all seem to face long odds.
The Senate has never formally weighed in on LNG exports, which have attracted increased attention in recent months given ongoing hostilities between Ukraine and Russia, leading industry officials and some lawmakers to argue that the U.S. energy boom can be better used as a foreign policy tool.
Last year's budget debate featured two non-binding votes on climate change, neither of which cleared 60 votes: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) won 52 votes for a proposal to eliminate EPA's authority over greenhouse gas emissions and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) got 53 votes on a carbon tax amendment. But neither of those measures was as narrowly tailored as the Whitfield-Manchin bill, which seeks to block EPA from requiring carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) systems on new power plants until such technology is widely available.
As the Obama administration plans to spend this week touting a series of activities related to the president's climate plan, the White House yesterday warned against using Shaheen-Portman as a vehicle to block those efforts.
"We hope that it gets to the floor; we hope that it passes," special adviser John Podesta said yesterday during a special appearance at the White House daily briefing. "But if it passes with unacceptable riders, it'll be headed to the watery depths."
Environmental groups marshaling push-back against the entire array of proposed amendments see an advantage on KXL with Hoeven and Landrieu poised to reach a maximum of 59 votes, but are wary of giving the GOP its entire energy wish list.
The Whitfield-Manchin proposal is "not a vote we really want to see the Senate take right now," National Wildlife Federation climate policy manager Lena Moffitt said in an interview yesterday.
"The timing is in our favor" this spring in terms of keeping re-election-rattled Democrats in greens' corner on closely watched energy votes, Moffitt added. Yet, given that seven Republicans already co-sponsor the efficiency bill, she said, "why they need such a hefty pound of flesh extracted in order to move ahead with these common-sense solutions is baffling at this point."
Reminding Democrats that the oil industry is not the only force pushing to extract a KXL vote from Reid, the Laborers' International Union of North America yesterday partnered with the National Association of Manufacturers on a Web advertisement that touted the Canada-to-U.S. pipeline's potential to create as many as 42,000 short-term construction-related jobs. Thirty-five of those jobs would remain permanent during the project's operation, according to the State Department.
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