Take, for example, the contrast in the treatment of the hot-button issue of exports of liquefied natural gas. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas introduced an amendment to expedite exports that attracted 53 yes votes but needed 60 to move forward. A day later, on Thursday, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee took up a separate bipartisan bill on LNG exports in a hearing that included administration and industry witnesses, with a promise to move the bill through the committee with administration input.
It's that kind of committee-driven process that Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski has promised for some bigger energy issues. The Alaska Republican has said she'll work on a comprehensive energy bill later this spring, with titles on infrastructure, supply, efficiency, and accountability.
She said that the weeks just spent on energy may grease the gears for members to start work on such a bill.
"All the sudden, you're looking around the floor and realizing there might be someone you can work with on pipeline safety, or to build a coalition with on the land and water conservation fund," Murkowski said. "As important as moving this [Keystone] measure is "¦ it has been good for the process and good for the spirit of cooperation as we move forward."
The committee's ranking member, Maria Cantwell of Washington, likewise said she was anticipating the energy bill debate, especially after the relatively smooth Keystone debate.
"This process we just went through bodes well for us trying to say to both sides of our aisles that there are things we can put on the table and discuss and a process we can go through and that process can work," Cantwell said.
Of the 41 votes on amendments on the bill, only four were approved and most of those were sense of the Senate resolutions. Arguably, the most policy-packed one was an energy-efficiency package from Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., that represented a smaller version of a bill they've worked on for three years.
Portman said they are already looking past Keystone to move the larger bill back through the Energy Committee and get it to the floor on its own. That bill -- which was derailed last spring amid GOP demands for amendment votes on the Keystone pipeline and other issues -- had been seen ahead of this term as an opportunity for an easy, bipartisan debate.
An amendment from Sens. David Vitter and Bill Cassidy, both Louisiana Republicans, that would increase revenue sharing for oil-producing states and open up more offshore drilling was withdrawn, with the promise to move it through the Energy Committee.
Democrats, who had lined up a number of amendments on the reality of climate change in a bid to nail Republicans on the issue, also saw openings on that front, especially after five Republicans crossed the aisle to say that climate change was significantly caused by man. Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who sponsored one climate amendment, said he was anticipating more hearings and long-term debate on the issue, although he said it was a "pretty sad state of affairs" that Republicans as a whole doubted the scientific consensus. "But let them give their point of view," he said.