Reid's High Wire Act

now this is a look inside the sausage factory - matt

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
46 states.

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.

Tags: 2006, Continental Shelf, Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act, Drilling, Energy, energy bill, Harry Reid, HR 4761, Lease Area 181, Oil Exploration, Politics, Pombo, S 2253, S 3711, Senate (all tags)

Comments

12 Comments

You don't know anything about Louisiana politics

And you proved it here.  I'm going to set aside the rest of this post and focus on that.  

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.

You conveniently ignore that Landrieu has always tried to tie this money to wetlands restoration.  Landrieu, as well as quite a few scientists who study the matter, thinks offshore drilling activities play a role in coastal erosion.  Therefore, using federal revenues generated by such activity to restore coastal wetlands is no "raid;" it is a reasonable request driven by concern for the environment and safety of her state.  

What safety, you ask?  Well, engineers who study the matter believe that the erosion of south Louisiana's coastline and the barrior islands has made New Orleans increasingly vulnerable to hurricanes over the past few decades.  The federal response to Katrina, while famously inept, was also many times more expensive than the cost of restoring Louisiana's coastline.  And, lest we also ignore something else, I don't want to see 1000+ Americans die in a natural disaster ever again.  

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.

This is the most infuriating line of the entire post.  The Landrieu family is a political dynasty in Louisiana.  Mary is a senator.  Mitch is the Lt. Governor.  Thier father, Moon, was the Mayor of New Orleans.  Phyllis is on the Orleans Parish school board.  All elected DEMOCRATS.  The family's political base is New Orleans, and the switch you suggest would be the sort of political bombshell that would ruin the family business forever.  Oh yeah, and Mary is still furious with Bush and the Republicans over thier actions in Katrina.  Mary Landrieu will switch parties when George Bush becomes a Democrat.  

Finally, I don't know if you realize this, but Louisiana was trending red, badly, long before Katrina decimated Landrieu's political base.  I would tag this as the most endangered Democratic senate seat in the country in 2008.  A win on this oil royalties thing is exactly what would knock this race back into the "leans Democratic" collumn, and you need to understand some of this stuff before trashing Landrieu over this bill.  

by SGoo 2006-07-28 03:01PM | 0 recs
sorry about that

That came out a little more incendiary than I intended.  Sorry.  

by SGoo 2006-07-28 03:05PM | 0 recs
Not incendiary enough if you ask me

Thanks for some context on Landrieu's position.

by joejoejoe 2006-07-28 04:30PM | 0 recs
LA politics

Bullshit.  Just bullshit.  There is absolutely nothing in the bill to tie it to coastal restoration.  That was a convenient ruse Senator Landrieu used in the past but there is no such sugar coating here.  It's a straight-up raid on the treasury.

I'm glad you're so confident in her staying a Democrat, very few people on the Hill are.  Her hiring of Republicans to handle her legislative agenda does not bode well.

Finally, of course I know the state is trending red.  That's the point and the reason people worry about a party switch.  Please explain how a Republican Congress diverting federal revenues into the LA coffers will somehow knock this race closer to the Democratic column.  

A Democratic Congress creating a massive public works project to rebuild New Orleans (which is what would happen if Ds were in charge)?  You can make the case.  Merely being complicit while Rs divert revenues to 4 red states? Forget it.

by hillhack 2006-07-28 05:50PM | 0 recs
Really?

My understanding of the what's going on here is still pretty skimpy.

But, the way I read the current version of HR 3711, the amounts paid to the Gulf states by way of royalty would be limited in their use to coastal enviromental projects:

The basis of allocation is given in §5 of the bill: §5(a) provides the basic split (50% for the Treasury, 37.5% to the Gulf states, 12.5% to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (on which I have no information)).

Then §5(b) gives the split as between the Gulf states, based on formulas to be established by the DOE, which we don't need to get into.

Finally, §5(d) specifies four classes of e how the Gulf states may spend their shares of the money allocated under §5(b):

                  (A) Projects and activities for the purposes of coastal protection, including conservation, coastal restoration, hurricane protection, and infrastructure directly affected by coastal wetland losses.

                 (B) Mitigation of damage to fish, wildlife, or natural resources.

                 (C) Implementation of a federally-approved marine, coastal, or comprehensive conservation management plan.

                 (D) Mitigation of the impact of outer Continental Shelf activities through the funding of onshore infrastructure projects.

                 (E) Planning assistance and the administrative costs of complying with this section.


That seems pretty much limited to marine and coastal conservation more or less directed at mitigating the effects of oil exploration and production in the Gulf.

Or am I reading it wrong?

by skeptic06 2006-07-28 09:53PM | 0 recs
This would be her win

She's been working on this for years, as you point out in your original post.  The royalties are her issue, and the media in Louisiana recognize it as such.  

As for the potential switch:

-Arnold in CA hired Dems to push his agenda.  Does anyone think he's about to switch parties?  

-Landrieu is on record calling Lamar Alexander a traitor for his switch in '04, right before the filing deadline.  

-Have you seen the video of Landrieu's chopper tour/interview over a flooded New Orleans?  That would be the one where she breaks down in tears because she saw the place where they were plugging the levy break and had done a photo-op with Bush the day before.  She was royally pissed because it looked like they had dragged away all the construction equipment now that Bush was gone.  

It turned out that the repairs were almost done when Bush got there, so they didn't need all the equipment by the time Landrieu flew over.  But I'm sure she was just as pissed when Bush got the lights turned on for his Jackson Square speech, only to have them shut off again for his departure.  She might lose re-election, but she is not going to join George Bush's party.  

Finally, I did a quick Lexis search of major papers, magazines, and SE reagonal sources.  If everyone on the Hill is so nervous about Landrieu switching parties, why hasn't it made its way into any news articles for the past five years?  You'd think the Washington press corps would eat that up....

by SGoo 2006-07-29 11:41AM | 0 recs
Landrieu

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.

I predicted last year after Katrina that Landrieu will switch parties in 2007 now that her New Orleans African American constituency is scattered across the country.

Good riddance to her.

As for Reid, he can't be counted upon for anything Democratic.

by Sitkah 2006-07-28 03:04PM | 0 recs
All very puzzling

As I understand it, the extension of Gulf drilling was something left out of the big energy bill HR 6 last year because the House and Senate were miles away from each other on the subject.

Clearly, they still are.

I infer from the fact that royalty sharing provisions that were not in S 2253 found their way into S 3711 that, without them, any Gulf oil bill would not pass the Senate.

(I'm not sure how the math works out to get to that conclusion. Who among Gulf state senators, apart from Landrieu, was a nay vote without royalty sharing?)

In any case, the current bill looks set to sail through the Senate. Looking at yesterday's debate in the Congressional Record (here), I counted five Dem senators speaking in support of the bill: Nelson (FL), Landrieu, Pryor, Cantwell and Salazar.

Any nays from GOP senators on constitutional or fiscal grounds? I doubt it.

Frist will probably drop some on his 86-12 margin on the cloture vote on the motion to proceed; but I can't see him being anything but comfortable on cloture of the bill itself.

Why would Reid want to whip Dem senators to get the bill passed if it was going to pass anyway? A threat to desert from Landrieu seems rather unlikely to me; perhaps he wanted to show her some love by exerting himself on her behalf. But I can't see that giving her much to boast about back home.

If S 3711 does pass the Senate, and gets inserted into HR 4761 as a substitute amendment, I can't see the House agreeing to the amendment.

But, if they don't, Reid has promised a filibuster (in this letter, which Nelson read out during his speech):

It is my expectation that the House of Representatives will accept S. 3711 as passed by the Senate without amending it and without modifying it in a conference committee. If the House does not accept the Senate bill as passed, I will join other Senators and Senator Nelson and produce the votes to sustain a filibuster to prevent the passage of the bill when it would return to the Senate.

Has he got the votes? What's the hard count?

Will he even need to filibuster? Won't a conference report looking anything like the House bill find itself short of a simple majority of senators?

by skeptic06 2006-07-28 03:11PM | 0 recs
Re: All very puzzling

Good questions.  S.2253 almost certainly had the votes to pass.  That is why Senator Frist would not allow Senator Bingaman to bring it up as a substitute or an amendment.  The same is almost certainly true of a simple amendment to strip the revenue diversion, though Frist would whip hard against it.

Pryor, Cantwell, and Salazar all wanted to amend the bill and preferred S.2253, but hate H.R. 4761 so much that they are willing to go with the Reid strategy.  

Finally, Frist would gladly accept the House bill and may even have the votes.  The Alaskans are desparate for the same deal as the gulf states and the pro-drilling crowd has generally been pushing for revenue sharing for years.  They figure it provides such an overwhelming incentive to drill that eventually the moratoriums will be lifted on the east and west coasts.

by hillhack 2006-07-28 06:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Reid's High Wire Act

First off, Reid thinks three steps ahead and he knows what the hell he's doing.  Hillhack is not privy to any private future assurances that Landrieu has made to Reid, or vice versa.  There is a metric ton of wild ass speculation here, and phrases like "Reid's only hope" and the "only plausible explanation" are laughable. There's all kinds of possibilities.

Second, and most importantly, hillhack's ignorance of the oil revenue provisions for Louisiana (and Landrieu's commitment as a Dem) is Olympian. SGoo's analysis is dead on.  The revenues for LA will go 100% towards coastal restoration.  This will help protect a crucial port city, LA's oil/gas infrastructure and seafood industry.  It will also provide hurricane storm surge protection to S. LA, and replenish America's Wetlands.

I'm not saying this is a perfect or even near-perfect bill. But the revenue sharing provisions are extremely important to LA. Life or death important.  Investing in South Louisiana is not a "lousy deal for taxpayers" or a "fiscal rip off". Do some research before parroting some uninformed talking points, and questioning Landrieu's commitment to the Democratic Party. (Her family is known as the "Kennedys" of LA.)

by oyster 2006-07-28 05:26PM | 0 recs
Dude, read the bill

They can use the money for anything vaguely related to the coast, including "onshore infrastructure projects."  LA's needs aren't the point.  Dems will happily make appropriations to repair New Orleans, fix the levies, and provide coastal impact assistance.  The votes are there, in spades, Frist just won't allow a clean vote.  That is a world of difference from diverting 37% of revenues forever into the future (very little money will go to LA in the first 10 years, BTW) for leases out in the deepwater Gulf.  

Louisiana, and the other gulf coast states, already gets massive revenues from oil and gas production in the first 6 miles of the gulf coastline that was simply gifted to them by the Federal government in the past.  This is a raid, pure and simple, and it sets us up for the mother of all raids -- the AK coast.

"The Kennedys of LA?"  Please.  Who's parroting uninformed talking points?

by hillhack 2006-07-28 06:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Reid's High Wire Act

Hack,

There will be a state constitutional amendment vote that will pass overwhelmingly if and when we get more oil revenues, devoting 100% to the coast. That's a lead pipe cinch, alright?

MASSIVE REVENUES? "GIFTED"? Are you kidding me? Getting about $18 million dollars per $4 billion generated to the Federal Treasury is MASSIVE? You gotta be kidding.  It's not massive at all, especially since the oil extraction and transport is contributing to a $20 billion dollar wetlands problem.

And then you say "very little" will go to LA in the first 10 years... well, if the pittance we currently get is "massive", how can the bill's revenue estimates for the first 10 years (hundreds of millions) be "very little"?

A lot will be changed during the H/S negotiations, so it's not worth arguing over the current bill's language. I agree it's not a great bill and would love to have Frist out and a Dem congress-- but there's no way in hell that Bush will sign a decent revenue-sharing bill unless it's poluted with all this other crap.  He'll veto any "good" bills for N.O. or the coast, because it's just "too expensive", and the Dems won't have enough votes to override it.

The Kennedys/Landrieu line isn't a "talking point", it's a descriptive comparison. There's about as much chance of Landrieu switching parties as Teddie K. The GOP hates her.

by oyster 2006-07-31 08:41AM | 0 recs

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