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.

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How much *policy* to understand the *politics*?

Yesterday, Matt raised a fascinating question - essentially a political one - about the current tussle in Congress over offshore oil and gas drilling.

But, in considering the question, I found myself inexorably drawn to consider the wider ramifications. Which lead slap bang into the policy details - on which I have no expertise whatsoever.

It's a problem for journos, polisci guys and bloggers alike: how to grasp the political import without needing to understand the substance?

Because, frankly, as soon as you get into the substance, chances are, you drown.

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Bill Nelson Responds to Conference Committee Abuses

I blogged last week about a new Energy bill snaking its way through Congress.  The politics of the bill are related to Bill Nelson's reelection bid, and a desire for more drilling in the Gulf on the part of a whole host of Senators.  There's a weird institutional conflict brewing, and I don't quite know how to read it.

Normally, compromise is a way of life in the Senate, which causes problems because Republicans tend to get what they want anyway in the Conference Committee that reconciles bills between the House and Senate.  It's not unheard of for a bill to look totally different after emerging from conference, which makes a mockery of the Senate.  For some reason Democrats have accepted this meekly.

Bill Nelson isn't, apparently, and wants assurances he won't be screwed in conference.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said he will vote against an oil-and-gas drilling compromise this week unless his colleagues promise not to alter the proposal later to match a more sweeping House bill.

Nelson, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, filed his unusual request Monday evening, even though he supports the bill that opens much of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to exploration -- with significant protections for Florida's west coast.

"If the Senate position, providing protections for Florida's economy and environment, is at risk in negotiations with House members, then I can't support sending something over to them for a series of closed-door negotiations," Nelson said in a statement.

"During these negotiations, supporters of more drilling easily could adopt their own horrendous plan to allow oil and gas rigs just several miles off the nation's shorelines."

This is very interesting and unexpected.  Senators are trying to force their own moderation into a much more extreme House run by such laudable environmentalists as Representative Pombo.

Sorry for geeking out on institutional conflict.  I'm curious as to what's happening, and anyone who could provide some more context would earn my geeky gratitude.

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The Energy Bill, Part II

I got this email a few days ago, and I've heard more chatter on it in recent days.


Senate Energy Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) cut a deal with Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) to allow oil drilling in 8 million acres (an area the size of Maryland) off of Florida's Gulf Coast.   The deal is opposed by environmentalists, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) has not endorsed it.  Sen. Frist wants to bring it to the Senate floor for passage next week, and use procedures to block Senators from offering most energy amendments (to do things like increase investments in renewable energy, require better gas mileage, etc).  We heard a rumor that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is working with a handful of Democratic Senators that support the bill (such as Sen. Mary Landrieu D-LA, whose state would receive millions of dollars from the federal treasury under this deal) to grease the way for the bill's passage next week.  This would prevent Democrats from offering amendments that reflect the Democrats energy agenda of investment in renewable energy and efficiency.

The coastal drilling deal is opposed by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

The bottom line is that if true, Reid would cede the debate to the R's, grease the skids for the passage of a Republican coastal drilling bill that Democrats were not allowed to help negotiate, and give vulnerable Republican Senators something to talk about during the August recess when questioned about high gasoline prices.  If true, Reid's actions would  be a win-win-win for Republicans, and a losing proposition for Dems (except for Mary Landrieu).

Pombo on the House side has a bill that is much much worse, and in conference we're going to slagged.  The provisions that Pombo is pushing include environmental wavers and greater incentives for drilling off of other coastal states (like New Jersey).

There's no reason to pass this bill without at least energy efficency amendments proposed by Obama, Cantwell, and Smith.  But the cloture filing is on Monday, which puts the vote on Wednesday, and that's going to prevent any of these amendments from being attached to the bill.  Reid is inexplicably supporting cloture because Bill Nelson thinks he needs this political help.  

There's literally no reason to pass this bill.  Zero.  There's a clean version that could be passed in a different bill proposed by Pete Dominici, Republican Chair of the Energy Committee.  This bill is awful, just awful, and the effects are irreversible.

Democratic Senators should absolutely vote against cloture on this and push to get energy efficiency amendments in the bill.  It's literally the least they can do.  And while I sympathize with Reid, the political calculations here are stupid.  Harris is not going to hurt Nelson in Florida.  She just isn't.  It's a friggin safe seat and Nelson has more money than anyone.

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Deep sea drilling: Senate GOP have a plan

When last I mentioned it, HR 4671, the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act, had just passed the House.

Now, it seems, the GOP Senate leadership have put together a compromise acceptable (they hope) to GOP senators limiting the drilling to 8 million acres in Lease Area 181 (in the east of the Gulf of Mexico) and 6.3 million acres to the south of 181, providing for an exclusion zone in the area within 125 miles of the Florida coast and tipping 37.5% of royalties from the new zone into the greedy mitts of the coastal states.

Of course, the Video Doctor is still short of 60 for cloture, even if Bill Nelson joins Miz Landrieu in supporting the motion. But, if he makes it, the choice for House GOP will be an interesting one:

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