Will the Senate be able to work through the current impasse on its bipartisan energy package? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily reporter Hannah Hess explains how negotiations on aid for Flint, Mich., are impacting the energy bill's prospects. She also discusses Senate leadership's strategy for moving past the current roadblock.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Will the Senate be able to work through the current impasse on its bipartisan energy package? E&E Daily's Hannah Hess has covered all the dramatic twists of the negotiations, and she's here with the latest details. Hannah, let's backtrack to yesterday when the Senate rejected cloture on the energy package. What are the sticking points and how are the negotiations over aid for Flint, Mich., affecting the progress of this bill?
Hannah Hess: Well, hopes were high last week when Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Maria Cantwell from Washington, the top Democrat on the panel, brought the bill to the floor. They were hoping that things could be wrapped up by the end of this week.
It's the first time the Senate has debated this much of a sweeping energy legislation in nearly a decade, but last week at the very end of the week, Democrats decided to attach this $600 million amendment to send some aid to Flint.
There have been concerns over writing a blank check in a situation like this where it's really a state and local disaster, the potential for this to look like an earmark, and Democrats, especially Michigan senators, are holding their ground here, and yesterday the Senate rejected two procedural votes to move forward on the bill.
Monica Trauzzi: So how is Chairman Murkowski handling this impasse and what does she have lined up as her next steps?
Hannah Hess: Well, Sen. Murkowski said yesterday that she's been working with Debbie Stabenow from Michigan on the issue way back since December. So when omnibus legislation was going through, she was hopeful for including some aid for Flint.
They continue to work together. Sen. Murkowski has unveiled her own amendment. There's an issue called blue slips that relates to the procedural wheelings and dealings where money bills can't originate in the Senate. So because there's funding in here, Sen. Murkowski wants to find an offset for it. Her proposal would fund the bill with a DOE loan program for clean energy technologies.
She told me yesterday that she has renewed vigor heading into the weekend where she will be sticking around with Sen. Cantwell, with Michigan senators, to keep talking about this issue.
Monica Trauzzi: What did you hear? What have you been hearing from senators this week about the prospects for the bill? What's everyone saying behind the scenes?
Hannah Hess: Well, senators from both parties are saying this is really refocusing attention on the EPA's program for giving loans to states and localities having water infrastructure issues.
A top Senate Democrat has asked the White House to include more funding for that loan program in the White House's budget next week. There's a lot of optimism on both sides, but at the same time, the window is closing. The Senate returns on Monday and their first vote is at 5:30 on a judicial nomination.
Monica Trauzzi: So things should move quickly on this? We'll know pretty soon? What are your predictions for where this goes?
Hannah Hess: Well, if a deal is coming together, it has to come together by Wednesday. Mitch McConnell has already set up a vote Wednesday evening on sanctions against North Korea. So I think that they will continue to have these serious discussions behind the scenes, and hopefully they can find another situation for giving some aid to Flint.
Monica Trauzzi: Then over on the House side, how are things progressing on aid for Flint?
Hannah Hess: On the House side, Nancy Pelosi endorsed a measure from the congressman from Flint, Dan Kildee, that would give aid particularly helping the children of Flint who have been impacted by this lead poisoning.
There's still some hesitation there on whether or not it's the federal government's responsibility to provide this funding, and also Speaker Paul Ryan has said he wants to continue to have oversight hearings. We saw the first one last week in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and more are on tap.
Monica Trauzzi: Lots of moving parts in both chambers. Thanks for coming on the show. We'll keep reading your coverage.
Hannah Hess: Thank you for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
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