A bipartisan bill to promote energy efficiency could be dragged down in the Senate by the weight of its own popularity, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., warned the measure’s supporters Thursday.
The problem is that when senators see a bill with a good chance of passage, it’s hard for them to resist the urge to amend it with unrelated provisions that would never make it through the Senate on their own, Wyden explained to a crowd of experts at a conference on energy efficiency.
“You have to find a way to thread the procedural needle,” Wyden said, urging his audience to lobby senators not to propose controversial amendments to the energy bill cosponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
“What is the best message to those who feel very strongly about their amendments?” asked Roger Platt, a senior vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council.
“The central message is that let us make this debate about energy efficiency,” Wyden replied.
The bill, which has few detractors and a plethora of supporters, would create a grant program for states to finance efficiency programs and update building codes, among other provisions, at a cost of $210 million over four years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
This is the second attempt by Shaheen and Portman to get a vote on their bill. But precisely because it has so much support—who can oppose more efficient use of energy?—the bill is likely to be laden with controversies not of its own making.
Wyden, who will be the bill’s manager if it reaches the Senate floor, has his work cut out for him in hashing out an amendment plan with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Reid and Murkowski both indicated last week that senators would likely have to take tough votes, such as one on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, if the energy-efficiency measure comes to the floor.
“There is going to come at time when we vote on it,” Reid said. “That’s fine. It doesn’t bother me at all. I think that’s why we’re elected—[to cast] easy and hard ones. If it’s hard for someone, that’s too bad.”
Murkowski expressed a similar sentiment. “I don’t think we should be afraid of our process,” she told National Journal Daily. “If we have to take some votes on some things we don’t want to take a vote on, that’s the way it is.”
The Senate is currently focused on an immigration-reform bill that could take up most of the chamber’s time until after the July 4 recess. “It's too early to determine which legislation it takes up next, but the Portman-Shaheen bill is a possibility,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.
Wyden told reporters after his speech that he is confident he can guide the Shaheen-Portman measure through the Senate thicket. “We’re going to pull out all the stops over the next few weeks,” he said. “And I think our work is going to pay off.”
This article appears in the June 14, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.