21 May, 2014

Legislative Hostage Taking


Popular bills are often held hostage to contentious legislation that otherwise might not get into the legislative spotlight.

Popular bills are often held hostage to contentious legislation that otherwise might not get into the legislative spotlight.

One recent example is the energy efficiency bill introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), which has broad bipartisan support, but it keeps being held up by fights over unrelated, controversial legislation. The legislation started as S.761 – Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013 in April of 2013. The bill would direct the Secretary of Energy (DOE) to: (1) support the development and updating of national model building energy codes for residential and commercial buildings to enable energy savings (2) encourage and support similar actions by states and local governments.The bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was was sent to the full senate, but never voted on.

On July 30, 2013 an almost identical bill, S.1392 was again introduced By Senator Shaheen with five cosponsors. The bill made it to the floor where it was waylaid by a series of proposed Republican amendments that, among other things, opposed Obamacare and supported acceleration of the Keystone XL approval process.

On April 28, 2014 S.2262, which is essentially the same bill, was introduced by Senator Shaheen with 13 cosponsors. (In case you are counting, an essentially identical bill, S. 2074 was introduced in February for procedural reasons.)

On May 6 the Senate voted 79 Yea, 20 Nay on Cloture, which is the modern equivalent of preventing a filibuster. The bill was approved for a vote.

On May 7 Senator Reid, the majority leader, said that he would allow a separate vote on accelerating the Keystone XL pipeline in exchange for allowing S. 2262 to come up for a vote without any amendments. Republicans disagreed, demanding the opportunity to offer amendments to the energy efficiency bill.

On Monday, May 12 the Senate voted 55-36 against moving the bill to consideration on the floor. The bill is probably dead for this session of Congress. The reason for the Republicans’ vote against bringing the bill to floor vote seems to be that Senator Reid would not allow amendments to the energy efficiency bill. However, another motive may have been that the vote also kills the bill accelerating the Keystone XL approval process, which denies Senators Landreiu (D-La.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)  an opportunity to garner voter approval by supporting the pipeline as they face tough reelection fights.