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Energy Bill Faces Do-or-Die Time

Senate GOP leaders have set a quick pace for this week’s debate on the energy bill and plan to use an array of procedural maneuvers to combat Democrats in what some Republicans admit will be a last-ditch attempt to pass the legislation this year.

“If you shake the Magic 8-Ball, what comes up is ‘Outlook cloudy. Try again later,’” said one senior Senate GOP aide of the possibility that the chamber can finally pass the bill, which has been routinely brought up and set aside over the past three months.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) said that, after spending a total of 12 days on the bill, GOP leaders are unlikely to give Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) more floor time if he can’t push the bill through by the end of this week, when the Senate leaves for its August recess.

“We’ve spent more time on energy than any other issue,” Allen said. “Once we get back in the fall, there are a variety of issues to deal with. … There are a lot of issues that haven’t even had 10 minutes of attention on the floor.”

Still Allen and other GOP leaders vowed to give the bill its best shot by forcing votes on a flurry of amendments if Democrats make good on their threats to drag out the debate.

“I think we have to wear people out on amendments,” said Sen. Don Nickles

(R-Okla.), who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources panel. “After a while, [Democrats] are going to start to realize they’re losing amendments.”

Nickles said Republicans do not plan to try to limit debate — a procedure that requires 60 votes to approve — but they will liberally use a maneuver known as “motion to table.” Such a motion, which effectively kills an amendment, is not debatable and requires only a simple majority vote.

Still, Minority Leader Tom Daschle

(D-S.D.) could make life difficult for Republicans by having Democrats pursue all of their amendments on the floor. All told, the bill has nearly 400 amendments pending.

“We’re troubled by the very limited amount of time that will be available,” Daschle said last week. “We’re not going to be jammed on this bill. We’re going to do all that we can to work in good faith, but I think that these issues are in many ways very complex and deserve careful and thoughtful consideration.”

Even though the measure has been pending on the Senate floor for some time, some of the most controversial amendments have not yet been debated or voted on.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are likely to offer a proposal to require car manufacturers to produce vehicles that consume less gas — a standard known as Consumer Auto Fuel Efficiency (CAFÉ).

When the Senate debated a similar energy bill in the spring of 2002, the proposal failed, and lawmakers instead inserted language in the bill requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to set new CAFÉ rules within 15 months. Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) plan to offer that proposal again, and aides said they expect it to pass.

McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman

(D-Conn.) plan to propose an amendment that seeks to stem the tide of global climate change by more stringently regulating greenhouse gas emissions. That amendment also failed last time around.

Republicans say they are likely to have the least patience with the CAFÉ and climate-change amendments because their outcomes are known.

“We don’t have to consider these amendments for days. We know what the votes will be,” said Nickles. “We do have the motion to table, and we’ll use it.”

The one unknown in the energy debate will be the fate of a new section on restructuring the electricity industry — an issue that generally cuts along regional rather than party lines.

Domenici plans to offer the new section as an amendment this week.

“That’s the 800-pound gorilla on all of this,” said Bill Wicker, spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Energy panel. “Electricity has always been the most difficult part of this energy bill,” Wicker added. “Electricity makes people’s heads hurt trying to figure it out.”

But Domenici spokeswoman Marnie Funk said all 12 committee Republicans support the new section, and they expect to get at least 50 votes on the floor “and easily more.”

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