Senate conference vote in limbo

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Senate vote to go to conference with the House on energy reform legislation is on hold as Republicans try to build up support among wary Democrats uneasy with the lower chamber’s own energy package.

Republicans had tentatively hoped to schedule a conference vote this week, but Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) acknowledged yesterday that there was more work to be done to reach the 60-vote threshold.

“My hope is that we’re going to see it shortly,” Murkowski told reporters. “I absolutely believe we will get there.”

Following Senate passage of the chamber’s energy package in April, Murkowski said she hoped for a quick conference that could reconcile the competing measures before the August recess (E&E Daily, April 20). But yesterday she conceded that goal was ambitious.

“I get itchy and want to get moving on things, but I also recognize that in order to do that, we’ve got to have those votes to go forward, so that’s what we’re doing,” Murkowski said.

Asked if a conference vote might happen before the July 4th recess, she responded: “That is certainly my design and desire.”

Murkowski’s comments came the day after key House and Senate negotiators met to discuss the conference and Democrats’ concerns over the House bill, which contains numerous measures that have drawn veto threats (E&E Daily, June 15).

Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told reporters yesterday that the meeting was “a good starting conversation” but that there was “a lot more to be followed up on.”

Asked whether she feels more comfortable about a conference, Cantwell responded: “I wouldn’t say that. I just would say that we started a conversation and we need to keep talking.”

She also said there was no discussion of taking issues off the table for the conference. “We didn’t get there,” she said.

During the meeting, Cantwell said that “we gave some assignments and we’ll hear what happens and we’ll meet again next week.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, declined to comment on the meeting yesterday.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” he told E&E Daily. “We had a meeting, and we’re just having ongoing discussions.”