Energy Plus Immigration Equals Weekend Work

Posted June 18, 2007 at 6:28pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) knows that if you want to get Senators’ attention, tell them they’re going to have to work on Saturday.[IMGCAP(1)]

But it seems that Reid wasn’t making an idle threat when he warned his colleagues Monday that with time running out before the start of the July Fourth recess, he could force the chamber to remain in session over the weekend to wrap up work on the resurrected immigration reform bill.

“People who have weekend schedules should understand that if they’re

going to be gone from the Senate they’re likely going to miss votes,” Reid warned, adding that “in an effort to finish by our July Fourth recess, we have to take the bill up by Thursday … which will mean votes over the weekend … odds are tremendous that we will work this weekend, and Monday there will be votes.”

In years past, such pronouncements — normally used to prod slow-moving legislators into action — have done little more than elicit scoffs from lawmakers and aides. But Reid has made good on a weekend session already once this year, and aides on both sides of the aisle were taking the Majority Leader at his word.

Despite months of steady but relatively slow legislative activity on the chamber floor, Reid is hoping to address at least three hot-button issues over the next 10 days or so, with a largely symbolic procedural vote on a union voting measure backed by labor getting thrown into the mix as well.

According to a Democratic leadership aide, Reid was expected at press time Monday to begin the process of bringing the revived immigration bill to the floor by Friday at the latest. The new bill essentially will pick up where lawmakers left off two weeks ago before work on the measure collapsed and will include all amendments that had been passed prior to the end of that debate. Reid also will include a supplemental spending provision committing $4 billion to border security measures. Those provisions are included as a way to keep a number of Republicans who are unhappy with the bill from backing conservative opponents’ efforts to kill the legislation.

Reid is expected to file cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill Wednesday, the aide said, and debate is expected to start Thursday evening.

Although Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have agreed to limit amendments to no more than 12 Republican and 10 Democratic proposals — and, thanks to the members of the “Grand Bargain,” the outcome of those votes is nearly a foregone conclusion — talks on the issue have continued.

Although conservatives can be bet on to use whatever procedural moves left at their disposal to try to slow the process, they likely will find themselves essentially locked out of the maneuvering with only floor speeches and press releases available to register their disapproval.

To make way for the immigration bill, Reid also is expected to file cloture motions in at least two other cases this week. He could file cloture on a motion to proceed to the union voting bill, which, while a top priority for labor, is expected to fail to garner 60 votes thanks to strong Republican opposition. But with many in labor unhappy with both the immigration bill and the energy bill’s inclusion of new fuel efficiency standards, the vote on the unionizing measure is seen by aides on Capitol Hill as Reid’s way of trying to placate labor leaders.

Reid also will file cloture on the energy bill Tuesday night, the Democratic leadership aide said, which will force a final vote on the bill sometime Thursday morning. But both Democrats and Republicans said finishing the energy bill this week could be tough.

Bill Wicker, spokesman for Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), said in a statement that Reid “has made it plain that he is determined to finish the legislation this week. That’s certainly doable — as long as Senators who oppose renewable electricity don’t try to unplug the whole bill.”

Wicker acknowledged in an interview that Democrats have “a lot to get done in not a lot of time, and … Republicans have been complaining about certain parts of the bill. But it is, by every measure, a bipartisan energy bill.”

One Senate GOP leadership aide, however, was less diplomatic: “I think it’s going to collapse under its own weight this week.”

Indeed, for Reid to finish up this week, he will have to hold several controversial votes in rapid succession, including one on imposing new automobile fuel economy standards; a vote on the issue of requiring electric utilities to increase the amount of renewable energy they use; a vote on a contentious energy tax package; a vote on coal-to-liquid technology; and likely a vote to end debate on the measure as a whole.

By rights, any one of those subjects could eat up a week in the Senate, and Reid, in effect, is hoping to get them all done in the space of two days so he can move on a vote on the labor bill and resume consideration of the immigration reform measure.

However, Republicans have been threatening to force a 60-vote point of order on the renewable energy standards — a Bingaman proposal.

On Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, GOP Senators are more likely to support an amendment by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.) that, in Wicker’s words, would “soften” the current standards in the bill. The amendment, which has been vetted by carmakers’ lobbyists, would require increased fuel economy standards but give car companies more time to comply.

Of course, if Reid, as is expected, uses cloture to force an end to debate, Republicans will have a tough decision to make, given the fact that the underlying bill is supported by a broad swath in both parties. Opposition to completing the bill would no doubt be portrayed as an attempt to filibuster a measure that Democrats have been touting as their answer to high gasoline prices.

Given that, Democrats appear to be hoping that they can win the game of chicken on the energy bill.

“I would imagine that if [Republicans] did filibuster, they’d be handing the Democrats a golden talking point going into the July Fourth recess,” Wicker said.

But GOP aides warned that Reid should not try to expedite consideration of yet another bill in the Senate. A second Senate Republican leadership aide noted, “I don’t see how all the issues with it can be addressed considering all the other things Reid said he wants to do this week.”

Indeed, Reid’s rush to finish energy has a lot to do with the rest of his schedule for the next two weeks, before Congress is scheduled to leave for the weeklong July Fourth recess.

Sandwiched in between energy and a resurgence of the immigration reform bill this week — likely on Thursday — Reid has planned to vote on the union organizing bill that Democrats say would make it easier to join a union, but that Republicans say could lead to intimidation of workers. In effect, it would allow unions to organize without having to go through a complicated secret-ballot process, but merely allow a union chapter to form when a simple majority of workers sign union cards.

Republicans are questioning the timing of the “card check” vote, given that autoworkers unions don’t want to see stringent new CAFE standards, while old-line industrial unions have been worried that the immigration bill will create an influx of guest workers that could depress wages.

“There are stark divides between Democrats when it comes to energy legislation, and it’s pitting labor against environmental liberals,” noted Ryan Loskarn, spokesman for Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.). “The elimination of secret-ballot union elections represents an attempt by Democrat leaders to appease labor leaders and mitigate the damage they’re sustaining by pushing a hike in the CAFE standards.”