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Deal on Keystone Vote, Energy Efficiency Elusive in Senate (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A frustrated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., channeled Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger as he described negotiations with Republicans on a path to passing an energy efficiency bill and holding a vote authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline.  

“You can’t always get what you want, but you try sometimes to get what you need,” is how Reid started his regular Tuesday afternoon news conference, referring to one of Jagger’s most famous lines.  

“Legislation’s the art of compromise, which seems to be far out of style around here,” Reid said. “The question is, can you get what you need?”  

Talks between Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appear to be at a standstill, which doesn’t bode well for the energy efficiency legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio — or a vote on Keystone.  

Democrats have said they are willing to give Republicans a vote on a bipartisan proposal to bypass the president and authorize the controversial pipeline in exchange for passing the energy efficiency bill.  

But in addition to a vote on Keystone, Republicans are asking for a vote on five energy-related amendments to the Shaheen-Portman bill.  

“I don’t think there are any discussions going on between the leaders right now,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who is Republican Conference chairman. “I think there are discussions going on between individual members, but until Sen. Reid, I think, reaches out to Sen. McConnell to try to negotiate a path forward, it’s going to be very hard for us to figure out what that is.”  

Reid contends that the GOP’s call for five amendments is just the latest example of Republicans not negotiating in good faith and obstructing Senate business.  

“I have told them [if] they want a vote on Keystone, they can have a vote on Keystone,” Reid said. But “That’s not good enough for them. They add four or five amendments. Its never quite enough.”  

As was widely expected, the Senate Tuesday voted 79 to 20 to begin debating the Shaheen-Portman bill, with 24 Republicans joining Democrats in support. But Republican leaders intend to filibuster the bill if they don’t get their amendments.  

“It is my hope that we will not finish Shaheen-Portman until we have at least four or five major energy amendments chosen by Senate Republicans to offer to the bill,” McConnell said.  

McConnell argued that it is not unreasonable for Republicans to get votes on four or five amendments on energy-related amendments to an energy bill.  

“It is laughable to suggest that it’s obstructionism for the minority to be given four or five amendments on issues related to the underlying bill,” McConnell said, adding that the GOP has only been given eight amendments of its choice since last July.  

Reid predicted Republicans would filibuster the measure because they would not get votes on their amendments.  

But the cloture vote could come as late as Friday, which still gives a couple of days for a deal to be struck, a senior Senate Democratic aide noted.  

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans charged that the White House is using a grim climate change report released Tuesday to tamp down support against a bipartisan Senate proposal to bypass President Barack Obama and authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  

“I don’t think the timing is coincidental,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who is working with a handful of Democratic supporters of the pipeline on a deal to hold a vote on the Keystone proposal.  

“The White House is against approving Keystone,” Hoeven continued. “The fact that they are coming out with this report right before we go to a Keystone vote; it’s very obvious that they are doing it to push back against Keystone, which they are doing very vigorously, and which is why it’s so challenging for us to get to 60 votes.”  

Pipeline supporters need 60 votes to overcome a procedural hurdle to the proposal.  

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., who is working with Hoeven, said, “we are very close to 60.”  

Landrieu, who is in a tough re-election race, didn’t comment on the White House report when asked, noting that she has not read it.  

Likewise, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who are also both facing difficult re-elections, also declined comment on the report.  

Pryor said that he has been busy dealing with the recovery from a recent tornado that hit his state, killing 15 and injuring more than 150.  

“I haven’t focused on that,” Pryor said, adding, “I’ve been so busy with the tornado.”  

Obama is expected to travel to Arkansas Wednesday to visit the hard-hit communities.  

Begich said he is still reviewing the report. “I haven’t read it in full,” Begich said. “I’ll take a look at it. I believe that Alaska is ground zero when it comes to climate change and we need to review it.”  

The politics of the pipeline are difficult for Democrats who are split on the issue. A Pew Research Center poll in March said that 61 percent of Americans support the pipeline, but only 49 percent of Democrats support it, while 38 percent oppose it.  

“The American public wants that project,” Hoeven said. “If we don’t get it now, we will get it [after] November.”  

The report warns that climate change is already affecting every region of the United States, and it is getting worse as carbon dioxide emissions grow.  

“It’s happening now. I think that is the bottom line,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.  

The report, which comes less than a month before Obama is expected to unveil sweeping greenhouse gas limits on the existing power plant fleet, details observed and projected impacts on U.S. regions and various sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, energy and transportation.  

Lauren Gardner contributed to this report.