What Would a GOP Majority Look Like? Last Week Offered Some Clues.

Short-listed: Portman could be the GOP pick for vice president — or NRSC chair.
National Journal
Jason Plautz
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Jason Plautz
May 12, 2014, 2:42 p.m.

When Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans went to bat over a slew of en­ergy amend­ments last week, they also offered up a pre­view of what 2015 will look like if the GOP takes the Sen­ate.

Monday marked the long-awaited death of a bi­par­tis­an en­ergy bill, when an ef­fi­ciency meas­ure from Ohio Re­pub­lic­an Rob Port­man and New Hamp­shire Demo­crat Jeanne Shaheen garnered only 55 of the 60 votes it needed to ad­vance (three Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Port­man, voted for the bill). The bill’s bi­par­tis­an spon­sor­ship wasn’t enough to over­come a pro­ced­ur­al squabble over amend­ments and a polit­ic­al chess match over a vote on the Key­stone XL oil-sands pipeline.

With­in that squabble, however, was a win­dow in­to top Re­pub­lic­an pri­or­it­ies, as their pro­posed amend­ments read like a laun­dry list of the party’s en­ergy goals: ap­prov­al of the pipeline, le­gis­la­tion check­ing the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency’s air-qual­ity rules, and a full stop to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cli­mate-change ef­forts for power plants.

“Re­pub­lic­ans will con­tin­ue to push for the Sen­ate to ad­dress these im­port­ant mat­ters, wheth­er Demo­crats want to join us or not,” said Don Stew­art, spokes­man for Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell.

Demo­crats have been quick to blame the Right for the death of the Shaheen-Port­man ef­fi­ciency bill, say­ing that they moved the goal­posts by ask­ing for five amend­ments. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said Monday that the Right was hold­ing the bill “host­age” rather than tak­ing a deal for a clean vote on the bill with a sep­ar­ate vote on Key­stone.

But Re­pub­lic­ans have countered that Re­id is squelch­ing their op­por­tun­ity to get votes on an en­ergy bill — something they haven’t had a chance to do since 2007.

Be­sides an up-or-down vote on Key­stone, a long­time pri­or­ity for Re­pub­lic­ans and red-state Demo­crats alike, the GOP had hoped to bring up amend­ments that would have barred a car­bon tax and blocked EPA’s green­house-gas rules for power plants. Oth­er lan­guage would have stopped EPA’s planned re­vi­sions to the air-qual­ity stand­ard for ozone and touched on geo­therm­al en­ergy.

Those aren’t new or sur­pris­ing pro­pos­als — Re­pub­lic­ans have long gone after the power-plant rules, in­clud­ing a Janu­ary push by Mc­Con­nell to use a dis­ap­prov­al res­ol­u­tion un­der the Con­gres­sion­al Re­view Act to force a vote on the stand­ards. Sim­il­ar meas­ures were offered up around the de­bate around the budget, the 2012 trans­port­a­tion bill, and oth­er ma­jor de­bates, al­though Re­pub­lic­ans have said that this en­ergy bill offered the best place for them.

And it’s un­likely that last week was the end of the road for the pro­pos­als, giv­en the vit­ri­ol around EPA rules and oth­er en­ergy is­sues.

Even Port­man, who wrote the ef­fi­ciency bill un­der fire, said that the push for a hand­ful of amend­ments was “a reas­on­able re­quest” and that he hoped ne­go­ti­ations would con­tin­ue to al­low them on his bill if it came up again.

“We can maybe take a breath­er, re­flect on where we are, and re­con­sider maybe hav­ing four or five votes on amend­ments,” Port­man said be­fore Monday’s vote.

Wheth­er they’ll get a chance is an open ques­tion — the Sen­ate will likely move to a tax-ex­tenders pack­age this week, but giv­en the broad range of meas­ures in it, Sen­ate aides don’t ex­pect it to get bogged down in an­oth­er en­ergy-amend­ment battle. There’s no guar­an­tee that Shaheen-Port­man will come back for a third time, even if spon­sors are hope­ful of strik­ing a deal.

Last week, Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Re­pub­lic­an, said she was con­cerned that the big polit­ic­al fights were threat­en­ing to hold up any en­ergy policy, in­clud­ing a nuc­le­ar-waste bill and pos­sible move­ment on wa­ter policy.

But Re­pub­lic­ans are hold­ing onto faith that they’ll have a chance to bring them up, es­pe­cially if they’re in the ma­jor­ity after the fall midterm elec­tions. John Ho­even of North Dakota said last week that he thinks a vote on Key­stone will get even closer to 60 votes next year if some key seats switch.

That’s already got en­vir­on­ment­al­ists sweat­ing that they’ll have to in­vest even more en­ergy bat­tling back anti-EPA moves, something that’s be­come a full-time job in the Re­pub­lic­an-con­trolled House.

“The de­bate over this en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency bill could be a pre­view of the Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans’ en­ergy agenda if they are in the ma­jor­ity next year,” said Dan Weiss of the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress. “This agenda in­cludes meas­ures that be­ne­fit big oil com­pan­ies while halt­ing ef­forts to slow cli­mate change.”

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