By Sean Cockerham, McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The chances for a Senate vote to approve the Keystone pipeline died on Monday along with an energy efficiency bill, victims of Congress’ inability to do anything regarding energy policy.
The Senate, paralyzed by partisan bickering, has not been able to pass a major energy bill since 2007, and it now appears unlikely to do so before the November election.
Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV) had agreed to schedule a vote on forcing President Barack Obama to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from the Canadian oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, a key issue in election races around the country. But Reid said he would only allow that vote if the Republicans agreed to the modest energy efficiency bill, which has languished for years despite wide and bipartisan support.
Senate Republicans, though, insisted on offering amendments to the energy efficiency bill — including measures to help the coal industry by limiting regulation of planet-warming gases and to speed up the approval of U.S. natural gas exports. Reid refused to allow amendments to be considered on the floor.
The Republicans in return threatened a filibuster of the energy efficiency bill, killing the measure and Reid’s offer to schedule a vote on Keystone.
Both sides blamed each other, with Reid saying the stalemate represents what’s wrong with Congress when even a noncontroversial energy efficiency bill can’t pass.
“This useless, mind-boggling obstruction is what continually grinds the wheels of the Senate to a halt,” Reid said.
Reid claimed the Republicans broke deals and held hostage the energy efficiency bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Their bill seeks to offer incentives and guidelines for energy-efficient homes and buildings; it was first introduced in 2011.
Senate Republicans, though, said they never had any deal with Reid and simply wanted their amendments to have a chance to be considered. They said that, especially given how rare it is for an energy bill to reach the Senate floor, they had the right to take the chance to debate U.S. energy policy.
“At a time when we should’ve been debating energy, the majority leader refused to allow a single Republican amendment on energy,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “That’s not the way this body was meant to function.”
The chances for a binding Senate vote on the Keystone pipeline are now likely gone until at least after the midterm elections in November. Pipeline supporters had hoped that the Senate vote might push Obama to approve the controversial project. The Obama administration has indefinitely delayed a decision on Keystone, citing a court battle in Nebraska over what route the pipeline can take through that state.
It’s likely that a vote to force Obama to approve Keystone would have failed anyway. Pipeline supporters were struggling to get enough Democrats on their side.
But a Keystone vote, regardless of the outcome, would have let several vulnerable Democrats running for re-election in conservative states tell voters they tried to get Keystone approved. Among them was Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Now their strategy is to blame the Republicans for sinking the Keystone vote that Reid offered them in return for passage of the energy efficiency bill.
“My question to my Republican friends is: ‘Do you want to build the Keystone pipeline or do you want an issue to talk about’ ” going into the November elections, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu said in a speech on the Senate floor. “I think they want an issue to talk about.”
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