WASHINGTON -- The Senate is engaged in a fruitless battle over a pair of ill-fated energy bills. Again.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is calling on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to hold a vote on a bill that would force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Reid has said McConnell can have his Keystone vote -- if he first agrees to approve a long-stalled bipartisan energy efficiency bill.
If this feels like deja vu all over again, that’s because it is.
This is the same fight that Senate Democratic and Republican leadership had in early May, when Reid tried to get a vote on the energy efficiency bill from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). McConnell sought to add unrelated amendments to the bill, related to issues like Keystone XL and the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on carbon emissions, which Reid refused to allow. Reid offered McConnell a separate Keystone vote in exchange for a vote on the efficiency bill alone, but no resolution could be reached and Republicans ultimately filibustered the Shaheen-Portman legislation.
Now Keystone is again a major topic of debate in the Senate, after the Energy and Natural Resources committee advanced a bill last week that would force approval of the pipeline. Two Democrats from fossil fuel-producing states, Mary Landrieu (La.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), joined committee Republicans in voting for that bill.
Several Republicans took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to urge Reid to bring Keystone up for a vote. Reid responded from the floor on Wednesday morning by renewing his offer to hold a vote on Keystone if Republicans help to pass the Shaheen-Portman energy bill.
McConnell appeared on the floor immediately after Reid and rejected the offer, citing the majority leader’s refusal to allow any additional amendments to the energy efficiency bill.
"We didn't get amendments on Shaheen-Portman," McConnell said. "So what the majority leader is now saying is he wants to pass a kind of comprehensive energy bill dealing with a variety of different subjects without any amendments at all, as a condition for having a vote on Keystone with five amendments related to the subject. I can remember when we used to vote around here."
Reid shot back that McConnell was rewriting history, because Sens. Shaheen and Portman had, in fact, already incorporated 10 bipartisan amendments into their bill to shore up support from both sides of the aisle.
"Let's not have revisionist history, let's have real valid history," Reid said. "If they really care about Keystone, if this is such a big deal -- the Republican leader said we've been working on this for five years -- the time has come: Let's belly up to the bar where we vote, and let's vote on it. But in the process, let's also do the bipartisan energy efficiency legislation that Jeanne Shaheen has put her heart into."
"So that's where we are: another obstruction, diversion to keep us from really voting on things," Reid added. "They're focused on procedure, and what the American people want, they want us to do things."
Moments after the exchange, Reid's office sent out an email to reporters blasting McConnell for complaining for months about Keystone but then turning down the chance to vote on it.
"All Senator McConnell has to do to get a vote on Keystone is allow a vote on bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by Senator Portman and six other Republicans," Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said. "It’s not like Senator Reid is asking for a vote on something only Democrats support -- Shaheen-Portman is a major priority for a number of Senate Republicans, too."
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart insisted Reid's offer was inadequate and argued that the fight was about much more than Keystone. "Reid refuses to allow ANY amendments," Stewart said in an email to The Huffington Post. "We asked consent to limit it to five, that they all be on energy, and that they all be subject to 60 votes. Even then, Sen. Reid objected."
In addition to Keystone, Republicans are still seeking a vote on amendments that range from blocking the EPA’s new limits on emissions from power plants, to expediting the export of American oil and gas. Attaching any of those measures to the energy efficiency bill would be a poison pill for many of its supporters, not to mention President Barack Obama.
The Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, meanwhile, is hardly controversial in its current form and enjoys rare bipartisan support. It includes incentives, opportunities and funding to improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings, houses and appliances, but does not impose any mandatory standards. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimates that the bill will create around 190,000 jobs, will save the country about $16.2 billion a year on energy bills by 2030, and will reduce the emission of planet-warming greenhouse gases. Several leading energy groups have endorsed the legislation and have continued to call for its passage.