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
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
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.

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