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Senate Mulls Scrapping Current Energy Measure to Pass Last Year’s Bill Again

In an attempt to quickly bring the Senate’s energy policy debate to a conclusion, Senate Republicans and Democrats are seriously considering scrapping the current energy policy bill and passing a similar measure the Senate approved last year.

After spending the morning trading partisan barbs over who was to blame for the sluggish energy debate, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) changed tactics and surprised Democrats by agreeing to consider a suggestion by Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Daschle wants to simply approve, without amendment, last year’s bill — which passed the Senate 88-11.

“The Democratic leader mentioned that last year’s bill was passed with a bipartisan vote and suggested bringing that up. And let’s do that. Let’s pass it today, and then we can move on,” Frist said on the floor after a long speech in which he chided Democrats for what he called “obstructionism” on the current bill.

Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded to Frist’s request by saying, “You’ve got yourself a deal.”

While the leaders tentatively agreed on the compromise, both Republicans and Democrats sent the proposal to their rank-and-file Members for consideration, and aides said a definitive decision was not expected until later this afternoon or evening.

“We’re vetting, vetting, vetting right now,” said one senior Senate GOP aide, who declined to speculate on whether all 51 Republicans would agree to the deal.

Democrats said they expected conservative Republicans to balk at the notion of passing an energy policy measure that was crafted by Democrats last year when they controlled the Senate.

“I think it’ll get snagged at some point or another,” predicted a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

Earlier today, Democrats took to the floor to chide Frist for diverting the energy debate three times this week to debate some of President Bush’s controversial judicial nominees, among other matters.

“If we really wanted to finish this bill, we wouldn’t have all these diversions,” said Daschle. “Shrill charges of obstructionism will not get the job done. Nor will it get the job done to finger point and try to lay blame.”

Daschle also pointed to a story in Thursday morning’s Roll Call newspaper that quoted several Republican Senators expressing concern about Frist’s diversions from the energy bill.

Frist defended his decision-making today. “The requests that we have made would not mandate in any way consideration of those nominees right now or during the energy debate,” he said, complaining that Democrats had objected to his offer to debate judicial nominees in September and October.

“What alternative does one have but to file [a motion to limit debate] to bring them up?” Frist continued. “The debate times on those cloture votes comes from the other side of aisle, not our side of the aisle.”

Other GOP Senators also came to Frist’s defense.

“I think his scheduling decisions for the week were absolutely correct — consistent wit h the best interests of the American people. And we support him fully in those scheduling decisions,” said Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

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