Reid's High Wire Act
by hillhack, Fri Jul 28, 2006 at 12:33:13 PM EDT
Following up on Matt's excellent post on the peculiar dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico drilling bill currently being considered in the Senate and trying to give a better context as he requested later, I think it's worth looking at this bill to see how leadership functions, or doesn't, in the Senate. Reid is playing a high-stakes, risky strategy with Dem 06 messaging and with the Country's checkbook.
First, a little background. The bill currently being considered is S.3711 which was brought directly to the floor by Frist after a deal was cut on its contents
between Senators Domenici and Landrieu. This is a modified version of the bill, S.2253, passed by the Senate Energy Committee in April. Of course, it's those modifications that make this such a bad bill. A map will help:
As you can see, what the bill does is open up a sliver of the Gulf (the area in pink) to new oil & gas drilling that was previously under a presidential moratorium, instruct the Secretary of Interior to lease in the very deep waters of the central Gulf (the area in orange) and create a new moratorium (in yellow) that would be off limits to oil & gas exploration until at least 2022. The other big piece is that 37% of the federal revenues from all new leases in the Gulf of Mexico after the bill passes will be diverted to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. So, not only does this bill do very little to produce any new oil or gas (not that it would have any impact on prices or imports if it did), it's actually a lousy deal for the taxpayers of
But it gets better!
Frist has brought this bill to the floor under a procedure that doesn't allow any amendments (wouldn't want the other 92 Senators tinkering with the
deal). Worse yet, the House has already passed a bill, H.R.4761, by anti-environmental crusader Rep. Richard Pombo that would waive environmental
laws for drilling in offshore and onshore areas, divert revenues from potentially all OCS drilling, lift moratoriums on drilling of the west and east coasts, and try to force more drilling near the coasts of such anti-drilling states as New Jersey. If the Senate bill sounds bad now, wait until you see it when it comes
back from conference with Rep. Pombo in charge.
So, where are we?
We have a bill on the Senate floor that is a fiscal rip-off, will do nothing about our current energy crunch, is devoted entirely to drilling rather than any kind of conservation, and is likely to lead to wholesale environmental waivers before it finally passes Congress. Oh, and Democrats are not allowed to amend it or include any of the conservation bills they have been working on for years. Seems like a bill just begging for a filibuster, doesn't it?
Here's where it gets weird. Reid is not only whipping the caucus in support of the bill, he is asking Democrats to vote for cloture on the bill so they can't even amend it. So Republicans get to go home for the August recess and (falsely) claim they've done something about energy by allowing more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico while Democrats get to say, -- what, exactly? That mean Republicans didn't let them do their bills, even though they passed on an opportunity to press their agenda right before they left town? Pardon my density, but I don't see how this fits into the Democrats' 6 point plan for a new direction for America. It certainly makes it hard to convince voters that Democrats would do anything very different from the Republicans' failed energy policies.
So what the hell is Reid doing?
The only plausible explanation is that Landrieu, and to a lesser extent Nelson, convinced Reid that he has to let this bill get out of the Senate. Landrieu has been
trying to raid the federal receipts from offshore drilling for years and has become increasingly angry about her Democratic colleagues' reluctance to let her make off with the money. This, coupled with the red shift that Louisiana has been undergoing in recent years, makes her connection to her current party seem more tentative by the day. It would not surprise me at all if she explicitly threatened to switch parties if she didn't get this.
Reid's only hope in this is that the House Republicans will overreach and change the bill so that it is unpalatable to Senate Democrats (other than Landrieu), allowing him to filibuster the conference report. Landrieu would get her vote to tout back home but the end effect is the law stays the same. But it's a risky gambit. The House Republicans could send the bill directly to the President, and create an awful precedent that Alaska and others will be only too happy to follow. Or, more likely, the House Republicans could add in just some of their bad ideas -- say, revenue diversions for Alaska (and there is almost no chance Stevens, Murkowski, and Young will let Landrieu get her cut without them getting some too), incentives to drill the east and west coasts, but with still some protections for Florida -- so that Reid is in the same bind with Landrieu and Nelson over the conference report that he's in today. It'll be a big test of his leadership.
However this works out, the Democrats will go into the August recess with a muddled message on energy and a tough time arguing from a position of strength.