Energy Bill Fizzles as Senate Begins Debate on Tax Extenders

With House members back in their districts, arguments in the Senate will capture the limelight.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) (C), speaks to the media while flanked by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-CO) (L) and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), after attending the weekly Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol July 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. Democrats gathered a the luncheon to discuss their agenda.
National Journal
May 11, 2014, 6:34 a.m.

With the House out this week, the Senate is poised to put its energy debate in the rearview mirror and move tax extenders to the top of its list.

The Senate will take up Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden’s tax-extenders legislation after passing it out of committee last month, and just days after the House passed a bill to make the so-called R&D tax credit permanent.

The House and Senate are pursuing different approaches to tax extenders, with the Senate putting dozens of the provisions into one bill while the House follows a more piecemeal strategy.

The Senate’s Expire Act would cut government revenues by $81.3 billion over 10 years and increase deficits by $84.1 billion, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. It would extend several dozen provisions through December 2015.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a procedural motion on the House bill last week, setting up a possible vote on the Senate Finance Committee markup later in the week.

Also taking place in Congress this week:

  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider a host of nominees, including two for key international economic posts: Mark Sobel to serve as an executive director of the International Monetary Fund and Sunil Sabharwal to serve as an alternate director at the IMF.
  • The Senate will hold a procedural vote Tuesday or Wednesday on a House bill to tweak the Affordable Care Act employer mandate for veteran employees. The Hire More Heroes Act of 2014 would allow employers to leave veterans out of the 50-count threshold to qualify for the employer mandate, as long as they have health insurance through TRICARE, the federal health program for veterans. The bill passed the House in March.
  • On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will mark up the Strong Start for America’s Children Act, a bill that directs the Education secretary to allot grants to state and local authorities for low-income families.
  • Leading up to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s markups later this month, there are a pair of subpanel hearings this week. On Wednesday, the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on research and innovation. And the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee is holding a hearing on the integrity of financial markets and the needs of the agencies that regulate them.
  • Also on Wednesday, the Senate Rules Committee is holding a hearing on the use of election data.

As a coda to the energy and Keystone XL pipeline debate from last week, the Senate will vote Monday to end debate over the energy-efficiency bill sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen. It looks unlikely that enough Republicans will vote with Democrats to end debate and get to an up-or-down vote on the bipartisan measure, GOP aides say.

Such a defeat would mark the second time the legislation, which has broad support in both parties, went down for procedural reasons. Last year, senators could not agree over which amendments — or indeed, whether any amendments — would make the cut. This time, too, the fight is over amendments.

If the bill goes down, Republicans say, the reason is that Reid will not allow them to make even germane amendments to the legislation. Last year, the issue was a non-germane Obamacare amendment. In this round, Republicans said they had only relevant amendments, but Reid still rebuffed them.

Reid put another offer on the table: a binding vote on the Keystone XL pipeline in exchange for passage of the energy bill. But Republicans rejected that offer as an affront to their right to offer amendments in the Senate. If enough Republicans don’t vote for cloture, then Reid will say they’ve filibustered the bill, a claim he has already made.


Focus on Veterans

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a full committee hearing on “The State of VA Health Care” on Thursday.

The Veterans Affairs Department has been under scrutiny recently amid allegations that delays in care at VA hospitals have led to veteran deaths. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted Thursday to subpoena VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, and Shinseki ordered an audit of every VA clinic later that day.

The Senate HELP Committee will also hold a hearing looking into tobacco use and regulation. The issue has received significant attention recently with the Food and Drug Administration’s recent release of long-awaited proposed guidelines to regulate e-cigarettes.


Keystone Countdown

In addition to the energy bill and Keystone drama expected on the Senate floor, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will wade into confirmation hearings Tuesday.

The panel will convene to vet the nominations of Suzette Kimball to become the director of the U.S. Geological Survey; Estevan Lopez as commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation; and Monica Regalbuto as the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for environmental management.


Tough Decisions

On the armed-services front, most of the action will take place behind the scenes this week on the committees’ No. 1 priority: the National Defense Authorization Act.

With the House out, staff will be working to prepare for the floor fights ahead on the $600 billion annual bill, which is expected to hit the floor when lawmakers return and will decide which weapons systems, benefits programs, and defense priorities the Pentagon must keep or cut.

In the Senate, work will continue behind the scenes too, with the Armed Services Committee preparing for its markup of the bill next week. Among the issues that are certain to come up are the fate of the A-10 attack plane, which the Pentagon wants to retire but many members in Congress want to keep, and the fate of proposed cuts in service-member benefits that the House panel voted to nix.


Spotlighting Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission will vote Thursday on whether to move ahead with controversial net-neutrality regulations that would allow Internet service providers to charge websites extra for faster service.

Liberals fear the new rules would tilt the Internet in favor of the largest corporations and stifle free speech. The FCC is drafting the new rules after a federal court struck down stronger regulations earlier this year.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the FCC will vote on whether to cap the ability of AT&T and Verizon to bid in an upcoming auction of wireless spectrum licenses.


On the Road

President Obama will spend two days this week at the White House before hitting the road again to raise money for Democrats.

On Monday, he meets with President Jose Mujica Cordano of Uruguay in the morning and will honor police who have won Top Cops awards in the afternoon. On Tuesday, he will award the Medal of Honor to Kyle J. White, a former active-duty Army sergeant, in honor of his courageous actions in Afghanistan in 2007.

Then it’s off to New York on Wednesday to raise political money. On Thursday, he will talk about the economy and help dedicate the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Jason Plautz, George E. Condon Jr., Clare Foran, Stacy Kaper, Sophie Novack and Brendan Sasso contributed to this article.
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