More Than Just Keystone Died in the Senate Wednesday

Murkowski: The new Alaska maverick. (National Journal)

The collapse of a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill on the floor has imperiled the Senate's vote on the Keystone XL pipeline, but it's also got members sweating that their chance to move any other energy measures has all but slipped away.

"We have things that need to be resolved and advanced in the energy sector," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "If we can't get an energy-efficiency bill through the floor, what does that say about our ability as a Senate to act?"

Republicans have said that the efficiency bill from Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio was their best — and possibly only — chance to debate energy issues in depth on the floor. They offered up a slew of amendments and tried to move five, including ones blocking a carbon tax, air pollution rules on ozone, and greenhouse-gas rules for power plants.

Those were politically-charged bills, to say nothing of the Keystone XL pipeline vote that was hitched to the bill as a stand-alone measure.

But Murkowski said she doubts that even some smaller measures from her committee could move given the "stunning" political backlash on the energy bill, which was aimed at increasing energy efficiency in commercial and residential properties and federally owned buildings. Among her priorities is a bipartisan nuclear-waste disposal bill she introduced with California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and policy proposals related to the nexus between energy and water, which she outlined in a white paper this week.

Reforms to the nation's energy-export policy could also fall victim to the partisan backlash, she said.

After saying that Republicans had backed out of a deal to vote on Shaheen-Portman and the Keystone pipeline, Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday filled the amendment tree on the bill and filed cloture, with a vote expected Monday.

Several Republicans said their dissatisfaction with the process would cause them to yank their votes for the energy bill. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, one of 24 Republicans who voted to open debate on the bill Tuesday, said simply that he was "not open to ratifying Harry Reid's operation of the Senate, which is to fill the tree and not allow any amendments."

And North Dakota Republican John Hoeven, one of the sponsors on the Keystone bill, said he didn't think he would help Democrats reach 60 votes on energy efficiency while Reid blocked their path to the pipeline bill.

Although sponsors say they're keeping their options open and hope to strike a deal that will keep the bill alive, its presumed death is another in a line of difficulties for the Senate (including the defeat of an earlier version of Shaheen-Portman, which fell in September amid a dispute over a health care amendment from GOP Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana).

Republican leadership had said that their goal in insisting on five amendments was to get a chance to talk about energy issues on the floor and secure votes on those issues for the first time since 2007, although the issues have seen floor time on other measures like the budget. But Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said that the Right would continue to push for the debate they want on the bill they think makes the best vehicle.

"If we're going to talk about energy, we ought to talk about energy," Barrasso said.