By a vote of 244-173, House Democratic leaders failed to advance their energy package Thursday, with 11 Democrats voting with Republicans to keep the bill from getting the two-thirds vote needed to pass it from the suspension calendar.
Democrats sought to cast the defeat in a positive light, pointing out that the number of Republicans who voted for the bill increased from 11 to 26 since the last vote on “use it or lose it” legislation.
Additionally, the number of Democrats who opposed the bill went down, from 19 to 11.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Asked if Democrats expected to have the votes today, Van Hollen said, “No, I don’t think anybody said to be sure we had the votes.” He signaled that leadership will continue bringing forward similar bills as it gets closer to the elections.
One noteworthy vote against the bill was Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Minerals Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the bill. Costa is also part of a newly formed bipartisan energy working group that is bucking leadership by crafting its own energy package.
House leaders are expected to bring up two more energy bills next week aimed at lowering gas prices in the short-term; one would release a small portion of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and one would crack down on market speculation.
Van Hollen said it is “very possible” that both measures will be set on the suspension calendar, which means limited debate and no amendments.
Democrats secured enough votes today to pass the bill if it had been set on the regular calendar, but they are unlikely to use that route on energy issues given the likelihood of GOP manuevers to attach contentious offshore drilling provisions.
House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) said leadership wants to avoid setting energy bills on the regular calendar because some Republicans are so eager to drill that they would “drill under the Washington Monument if they could get away with it.”
Van Hollen said Democrats are sticking with the suspension calendar to keep the debate focused on “a series of discrete issues that will … move the country forward.”