Sit-down aims to smooth pre-conference tension

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 13, 2016

Top House and Senate lawmakers are expected to huddle this week and talk about how the much-anticipated energy conference committee would unfold, as Democratic concerns threaten to sink the legislative push before it gets off the ground.

Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Thursday that she was optimistic the huddle with ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and the pair’s House counterparts on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), would help clear the air over the conference process (E&E Daily, June 9).

“Our staffs have been working to try to pull some things together, but it doesn’t happen till we get everyone sitting down,” she said.

A vote to go to conference isn’t expected in the Senate before that meeting, the timing of which Murkowski said had not been set as of last week.

Democrats have taken a dismal view of the House’s revised energy bill over the inclusion of multiple bills that have drawn veto threats from the White House.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the ranking member on the Energy and Power Subcommittee that wrote much of the House bill, said Friday that Democrats in the House are “vehemently opposed” to the House measure. “Very few of our concerns were addressed,” he said in an interview.

The bulk of House Democrats voted against going to conference, and Rush said Senate Democrats should follow suit.

“I don’t think the Democrats in the Senate should support it,” he said.

However, describing himself as an “eternal optimist,” Rush said there’s a “slight chance” of improving the bill in conference if members “are sincere in making improvements, but right now it’s a long shot.”

GOP aides have said that Senate Democrats want some items taken out of consideration for the conference, but House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) dismissed that idea Friday.

“Those decisions need to be worked out in the conference committee,” he said. “Any kind of ‘pre-workout’ is silly.”

Former Energy Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) last week suggested he was open to going to conference (E&E Daily, June 8), and committee member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Friday signaled he was open to supporting the vote, as well — provided there were some procedural assurances.

“As long as the conference was set up in a way that we could make sure that we can have an open, free conference and not just people that aren’t on our committee will be calling the shots,” he told E&E Daily. “That’s where we are.”

Murkowski aides have said that she, as conference chairwoman, plans a process that mirrors the manner in which the committee’s bipartisan bill (S. 2012) was assembled — with bipartisan cooperation. Murkowski has repeatedly noted that the president’s veto pen hangs over any provisions the conference would produce (E&E Daily, June 7).

Her staff outlined a process in which less controversial matters in the bills would be addressed early on, with more contentious issues saved for later. Should agreement remain elusive on the thorniest matters, they could be set aside entirely.

Possible issues that may be given early consideration are workforce provisions in both the House and Senate bills.

The House bill includes some workforce provisions championed by Rush, who acknowledged their inclusion “makes it a little bit more difficult to me” to oppose the conference.

“But overall, in general, it’s a horrible bill,” he said.

Reporter Hannah Hess contributed.