Senate energy bill missing off top of this week's agenda as recess looms

Senate Democrats are gearing up for another week of political message votes as unified GOP opposition has made passage of energy legislation unlikely.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had declared July the month to debate and pass comprehensive energy reform legislation.

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Instead, the Senate will likely spend only a day this week on a narrow oil-spill response bill that appears fated to stall because of another Republican filibuster. The Senate is scheduled to take a recess until mid-September after this week, giving lawmakers a chance to campaign back in their home states.

Energy legislation isn’t even on the top of this week’s agenda.

Lawmakers will vote Monday to cut off debate on a $26.1 billion package that includes $10 billion for an education jobs fund and $16.1 billion in Medicaid assistance to states.

Democrats last week had tried to pass the state aid, which is supported by a bipartisan group of governors, but Republicans blocked the effort.

There is no indication that any Republicans will defect to give Reid the votes he needs.

While Democrats have little hope of passing additional spending — which would be fully offset — they plan to use the vote as ammo on the campaign trail this fall. The legislation would be fully paid for by ending a tax credit on corporate foreign-earned income and $17.1 billion in spending cuts, including a $6.7 billion cut to the federal food-stamp program.

A senior Democratic aide said it’s likely but not certain that Reid will file a motion to proceed to oil-spill response legislation, setting up a vote for mid-week.

The sweeping energy and climate change bill that Democrats had envisioned earlier this year has been pared down to legislation that would eliminate the cap that limits oil companies’ liability for spills.

The legislation would also raise safety standards for offshore drilling and break the Minerals Management Service into three parts, completing reorganization of the Interior Department begun by President Obama.

Lawmakers predict Senate support for the bill to break down strictly along party lines, which would leave Democrats short the votes for passage.

Lawmakers expect a virtual replay of the acrimonious debate that stalled small-business legislation.

Republicans will demand votes on a host of amendments and then will filibuster the bill, with both sides battling over arcane procedural agreements. In the end, they expect the energy bill to stall on the floor.

“This is all about posturing because Sen. Reid knows if you introduce a piece of legislation and say take it or leave it, there’s no opportunity to offer amendments, the reaction is going to be, ‘No, we’re not going to do it that way,’ ” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), chairman of the Senate Republican campaign committee, explaining why the small-business bill hit a wall last week.

Cornyn predicted the same outcome for the energy bill.

“I think their strategy on the energy bill is to get Republicans to vote against their version,” said Cornyn. “This is all about political posture, not about trying to solve problems.”

If Republicans block the oil response legislation, Democrats will use the vote to attack GOP candidates in the fall.

Senior White House political adviser David Axelrod met with Senate Democrats on Thursday and told them the political strategy for November is to portray Republicans as the defenders of corporate special interests, such as oil companies.

Reid hasn’t given up on small-business legislation. He urged colleagues last week to pass the bill before the August recess.

Unlike the oil-spill response legislation and $26 billion in aid to states, lawmakers have reported behind-the-scenes progress on the small-business bill.

Obama gave the measure a push over the weekend when he blasted Senate Republicans for blocking it.

“I’m calling on the Republican leaders in the Senate to stop holding America’s small businesses hostage to politics, and allow an up-or-down vote on this small-business jobs bill,” the president said during his weekly radio address.

Republicans have demanded votes on several amendments to the bill: a one-year extension of research and development tax credits, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); a biodiesel tax credit, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa); and a repeal of a controversial tax-reporting provision of the healthcare reform law, sponsored by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).

It is unclear whether the Senate will have enough time to vote on the state-assistance package, the oil-spill response bill and pass small-business legislation.

Lawmakers must also debate and confirm the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Several Republicans have pledged their support, and she is assured approval.

A senior Democratic aide said Kagan’s nomination could be debated throughout the week during the intervals between legislative action on the floor.

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