There were two proposals at issue. One was the Shaheen-Portman bill, a modest but worthwhile bit of energy efficiency legislation that should have garnered the votes of three-quarters or more of the Senate but had been held up since last year because of Republican Sen. David Vitter's demand that it be tied to a vote on Obamacare. The other was Landrieu-Hoeven, a bill to transfer authority for deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline from the president to Congress in hopes of approving the project that is still undergoing a mandated review by the State Department.
Republicans originally wanted to tie these two together, seemingly with the astonishing view that Democrats would not want to block an energy efficiency bill and President Obama would not want to veto one even if it had the Keystone XL amendment attached. They perhaps actually thought this despite the fact that the president already has proved he will not support legislation that tries to hamstring his authority to decide whether the cross-boundary pipeline will be built or not, authority that has rested with the presidency for the past 46 years.
Or maybe they just liked the election-year optics of being able to say in the wake of a veto that a dictatorial Democratic president had gone against the wishes of the majority of Americans, including 11 senators of his own party. Either way, they misjudged.
Please read more analysis of this story below the fold.
Majority Leader Harry Reid said no to making the Keystone XL proposal an amendment to Shaheen-Portman. Instead, in return for a vote on the efficiency bill, he agreed to letting there be a separate vote on the Keystone bill. A stand-alone vote on Keystone was what Sen. Mary Landrieu, co-sponsor of that proposal, also wanted.
For Republicans that wasn't good enough. They also wanted to add five other amendments to Shaheen-Portman, including the banning of a carbon tax, speeding up natural gas exports and blocking pollution regulations. Reid said the Republicans, with their demands for amendments, were screwing around with Shaheen-Portman, which would spur energy efficiency for residences, businesses and federal buildings. The bill, he said, had already been amended multiple times to give it a better chance in the Senate:
“Hey listen […] you know I am at a total loss of what they are trying to do. I can remember going to New York as a young man and they had that shell game. Boy, they were good, they could cheat you every time. That’s what happening on this bill,” Reid said.Landrieu puts the blame for the collapse directly on Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
Asked whether he would agree to votes on a finite number of GOP amendments to the bill, Reid responded: “What amendments? They keep changing. This bill’s been around for a year. What do you mean finite?” [...]
“It’s a good bill; they should just pass it. But they’re not happy with that. They just can’t let well enough alone. They just have to keep screwing around with it. It’s really hard for me to comprehend,” Reid said of Republicans.
“If Mitch McConnell wants to have a vote on Keystone straight up or down, where he may get 60 votes, he most certainly has the power in his caucus to make that happen,” she said Wednesday as the negotiations for energy legislation ground to a halt. “They’re going to probably blow the opportunity to get a vote on Keystone because they just can’t help themselves.”Naturally, the Republicans blame Landrieu, who is up for election in November. If she had really wanted a vote on Keystone XL, they said, she could have used her new post as chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee to reduce the required vote to 50 from 60. And they say she'll suffer in November for it. But Democratic Sen. Bennett Johnston, the last Louisianan to chair the Senate energy panel, told Darren Goode and Burgess Everett at Politico that he doubts this matter will harm Landrieu because Louisianans aren't paying attention to such details. Moreover, Landrieu has a record favoring the oil and gas industry in Louisiana—a stance that mightily irks liberals in the Democratic Party, but plays well on her home turf.
The failure means serious discussion of energy in the Senate is off the table until at least 2015. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the closest GOP senators to being a moderate by today's standards, isn't happy:
"We have things that need to be resolved and advanced in the energy sector," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "If we can't get an energy-efficiency bill through the floor, what does that say about our ability as a Senate to act?"All this at a time, waaaaaay past time, when the nation needs a comprehensive energy bill, one that addresses climate chaos, that provides good jobs, that spurs the building of a clean-energy future instead of remaining mired in a dirty-energy past that is, literally, killing us.
Murkowski said she doubts that even some smaller measures from her committee could move given the "stunning" political backlash on the energy bill, which was aimed at increasing energy efficiency in commercial and residential properties and federally owned buildings. Among her priorities is a bipartisan nuclear-waste disposal bill she introduced with California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and policy proposals related to the nexus between energy and water, which she outlined in a white paper this week.