Supporters of ending the oil-export ban eye a deal

Supporters of ending the oil-export ban eye a deal

A bill to undo the decades-old federal ban on crude oil exports hits the House floor this week, but the measure’s supporters are still looking for the compromise package that can get it through Congress and win President Obama’s signature.

Most lawmakers backing the effort at this point are Republicans, but several Democrats have opened the door to crafting some type of deal to lift the ban while securing concessions of their own. 

But the path forward is complicated: Democrats who have indicated potential support for crude exports require different things to do so. And bill supporters need to craft a deal that’s good enough to retain Republican support while securing approval of a reluctant president.

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Republicans will get a vote on the issue Friday in the House. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Barton (R--Texas), predicted a strong contingent of Democrats will back him, though not enough to overcome a veto and with several potential allies still opposing the legislation.

“I think they can pass the bill Friday without me, but I don’t think they’ll be able to get through the Senate,” said Rep. Gene GreenRaymond (Gene) Eugene GreenTexas Dem rep announces plans to retire Five things to know about GOP's gun-suppressor bill Dem pulls support of gun rights bill after Las Vegas shooting MORE (D-Texas), who often votes with Republicans on energy issues but plans to oppose the export bill on the House floor this week. 

Green supported the bill in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but only because he had an agreement with Barton to amend it later, he said. 

The Texas Democrat proposed a series of amendments to the bill designed to protect oil refiners in his district, which could be bypassed by expanded crude exports. But Republicans rejected one of those amendments, and Green won’t back the bill when it comes to a vote on Friday.

The amendment fight is more complicated in the Senate, where many Democrats have said they could consider voting for exports, but only if Republicans give them some sweeteners first.   

“I think we need to have an open discussion about what people’s ideas are,” said Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Overnight Finance: House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP | Senate confirms banking regulator | Mulvaney eyed for interim head of consumer agency Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog MORE (D-N.D.), the top Democrat pushing oil exports.

Last month, Heitkamp proposed tying exports to the expansion of renewable energy tax credits. Her colleagues’ wish lists, though, are longer than that. 

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing last week, for example, Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAnother perfect storm: Why we must act before flood insurance runs dry Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  GOP campaign committees call on Democrats to return Franken donations MORE (D-Mont.) said the oil export bill should include land conservation funding and renewable energy proposals. Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Indiana Dems: GOP has double standard on donations from alleged assaulters GOP campaign committees call on Democrats to return Franken donations MORE (D-Ind.) said the bill needs to protect waterway workers and refinery jobs that could be hurt by expanded crude exports.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Overnight Tech: Senate Dems want FCC chief recused from Sinclair merger | Tech rallies on Capitol Hill for DACA | Facebook beefs up lobbying ranks Facebook adds two lobbyists amid Russia probe MORE (D-Va.) said he too could support expanding exports, but there are environmental, employment and revenue issues he wants to see addressed first.

“I do think, if there’s a realistic opportunity to get something like this passed, it’s going to require a more comprehensive approach,” he said. 

Heitkamp has been meeting with Democrats on oil exports since last fall, according to her office, and she said she’s buoyed by the fact members are still considering the issue rather than writing it off entirely. 

“Declared Democrats? Two for sure,” Heitkamp said of herself and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Overnight Finance: House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP | Senate confirms banking regulator | Mulvaney eyed for interim head of consumer agency Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog MORE (W.Va.), the only Democratic sponsors of her export bill. “Willing to talk? Many, many more than that.” 

She said the goal now is to win what support she can without bogging down the bill until it collapses under the strain of new amendments.

“I think there’s an opportunity to put together a package,” she said. “The question is whether that’s a package that becomes too laden with extra stuff that we can’t move it with the vast majority of Republicans.”

The GOP isn’t rushing to offer up concessions just yet. 

Barton said Tuesday that the economic impact of his bill — expanded production and employment opportunities in the oil industry — should be enough to win Democrats’ votes. 

“I’m trying to keep the bill as clean as possible and as simple as possible,” he said. 

“My job is to get the best public policy out of the House, and I’m going to try to do that this Friday, and I think we’re going to get a big vote. I think we’ll get a very credible number of Democrats and a super majority of the Republicans.”

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate bill would cut EPA funding by 0M GOP senator: ObamaCare fix could be in funding bill Collins: Pass bipartisan ObamaCare bills before mandate repeal MORE (R-Alaska), Heitkamp’s Senate partner on exports, said this week that she’s still considering ways to entice Democratic support. 

“Have I thought at all? Sure,” Murkowski said. “Do I have anything that I can share right now? No. I’m just for lifting the ban.”

If lawmakers can reach a deal on exports, they still would need to send to the White House a package Obama can support. 

The White House threatened a veto of Barton’s bill on Wednesday, saying it is “not needed at this time.” In September, press secretary Josh Earnest said the Commerce Department already has the power, in limited circumstances, to approve export agreements.

But Heitkamp said she thinks lawmakers will be able to form a package that Obama could ultimately support. 

She said she’s talking with White House officials on the matter, and her goal is to try to pass the bill by the end of the year.

“We have had conversations,” she said. “And I think that people who say there’s no way, no how, that they could ever get to yes on this, I think that overstates the White House’s position.”