Senate deadlocked on energy bill, ending chances of a vote on Keystone

The Senate deadlocked Monday on a bipartisan energy bill, with Republicans mounting a filibuster that also is likely to end any near-term consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal that has become a key issue in several critical elections.

The vote Monday — 55 to 36, mostly along party lines — on a modest energy efficiency bill sponsored by Sens. Jean Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) ended a long but sporadic attempt to approve legislation that has been ensnared by several controversial side issues amid Republican attempts to attach amendments to the measure.

The Shaheen-Portman bill now has become wrapped around Republican demands for several ­pro-energy proposals that would promote drilling or rein in environmental regulations. Most importantly, in terms of the November midterm elections, the debate seemed at one time to provide the best chance for the chamber to hold a binding vote on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, because several Democrats running for reelection in conservative states have been pushing for it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) gave in to those Democratic requests and said he would allow a vote on a measure mandating that the administration move past its current environmental and legal reviews of the pipeline and ordering that it be approved. But he said the Keystone vote was contingent on first approving the Shaheen-Portman bill without allowing for any amendments on either side of the aisle.

“That’s what I want to do. He doesn’t want to do it,” Reid said Monday evening before the vote, motioning to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

That effort fell apart late last week, Reid said, because Republicans who were supporting the underlying legislation demanded votes on pro-energy amendments. Reid alleged that they broke their word on a tentative deal made last month.

In an interview with MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown,” Reid said that those Republicans understood the terms of his offer — a quick vote on the energy bill with no amendments in exchange for a Keystone vote. “There is no question that that meeting took place,” he said. “That was the agreement that was made. They know who was there. They know what has happened since then.”

Republicans disputed this assertion, saying that they never agreed to shut down the amendment process after what has been a nearly year-long fight with the majority leader over his tough handling of the Senate floor.

“You’ve got pent-up demand,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the top Republican on the Energy Committee, said of GOP requests for more votes. “There is no bait-and-switch going on here. There was no deal that materialized.”

The Republican amendment requests on the Shaheen-Portman bill included one to help the coal industry by limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions at new power plants and another to speed up natural gas production. These were arguably more important to oil and gas producers than the fight over the Keystone pipeline and proved to be deal-breakers for many Democrats.

With the deadlock over the debate on the amendment process, three Republican co-sponsors of the bill joined most of their GOP colleagues in voting to filibuster Monday’s procedural vote and in the process jettisoning any chance of passing the Keystone bill.

Portman, along with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Susan Collins (Maine), were the three Republicans who voted to advance the legislation.

Democrats supporting the Keystone XL pipeline — which would provide a quicker route for delivering more than 800,000 barrels of oil a day from western Canada to the Gulf Coast — are now left to accuse Republicans of maneuvering the process for political gain.

“They can’t take yes for an answer,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said after the vote, citing a number of Republican amendments that had already been incorporated into the legislation. “The Republican leader wants an issue. He does not want the pipeline.”

Landrieu, the new chairman of the Energy Committee, is one of a half-dozen Democrats who have supported Keystone’s development before and are up for reelection this fall against potentially difficult Republican opponents. In a non-binding vote in March 2013, 17 members of the Democratic caucus voted with all 45 Republicans, providing a real chance that if the Keystone vote were held this week, it might clear the 60-vote hurdle of a filibuster.

Several Democrats who had previously backed the proposal were wavering, however, and it is possible that President Obama would have vetoed the legislation if it had passed.

Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.
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