Senate support grows for conference vote

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bipartisan momentum is building in the Senate for going to conference with the House to reconcile competing versions of energy overhaul legislation.

The House appointed conferees weeks ago. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said his chamber would likely vote to join the House in talks sometime this week.

“Going to conference on this measure would put us one step closer to arriving at a final bill and sending it to the president’s desk,” said McConnell in floor remarks.

McConnell said the bill, if successful, would be the first major piece of energy legislation to pass since the George W. Bush administration and would “bring our aging policies and infrastructure in line with current and future demands.”

Senate Democrats, who have resisted going to conference over partisan provisions in the House bill, now appear on board with the formal, bicameral negotiations.

A Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee spokesman said Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) had reached an agreement on ground rules for the conference. Their goal is to bar riders that would spark a presidential veto from the final bill.

“Cantwell is recommending her colleagues agree to moving forward with a formal conversation with the House,” said the spokesman, who added that Democratic leaders backed the move.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not address the potential conference vote directly. He will likely discuss the issue with colleagues during today’s policy lunch.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he supports going to conference, despite so-called “poison pill” measures in the House legislation. “It’s only by going to conference that we will see what they are willing to do or not do,” he said.

Zika

While the Senate might make headway on the energy conference, a $1.1 billion Zika aid package shows no signs of advancing.

McConnell said he would try again for cloture on the aid legislation, which Democrats oppose over proposed spending offsets and several riders. One of those provisions would ease mosquito pesticide spraying requirements for up to six months.

Sixty votes would be needed to invoke cloture on the bill and move toward final passage, a threshold unlikely given Democratic resistance.

Reid yesterday called the Zika measure “a mockery of how Congress should treat an emergency” and said it would not pass the Senate without changes. Among the concerns, he cited the move to exempt some pesticide spraying from the Clean Water Act.

Reporter Hannah Hess contributed.