As the oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak continues to evaporate in the Gulf of Mexico, the Democrats’ chances of using it to grease the passage of a new energy bill are evaporating, too.
Last week, House and Senate Democratic leaders rolled out what Politico called their “big spill bills.” The legislation, of course, was stuffed with nearly $15 billion in green goodies: new chokeholds on offshore drilling, cash-for-caulkers, and retrofitting for natural-gas trucks. “That kind of bill, folks, ought to pass, 100 to nothing,” said Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.). Indeed, with the public still sour about the BP slop, Democrats thought they could pressure Republicans to come along. “If, after the worst oil spill in the history of the country, Republicans were to vote ‘no’ against new offshore-drilling protections — can you imagine the ads?” asked one senior Democratic aide.
Republicans, and many Senate Democrats, can, but the prospect doesn’t worry them as much as getting burned by overreaching on energy does. He blames Republicans, but it was growing unrest in his own caucus that forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) to yank his 400-page bill on Tuesday after having planned to hold a floor debate and votes on both the GOP and Democratic measures this week. Reid, in a complaint-laden presser, said he used “jujitsu and yoga” on Republicans, to no avail. In fact, it is Reid’s own mangled dance that has left the Democrats’ energy agenda shelved until the Senate is back in session after Labor Day.
Thank Mother Nature or the political gods for this momentary good fortune. Reid’s strategy — to pass a heavy-handed anti-drilling bill encrusted with oil-spill politics — simply backfired. Oil-state Democrats, like Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), were aghast at the bill’s hard line on businesses big and small — among other punitive measures, it eliminates the liability cap — and wondered aloud whether it went too far. “I wish that somebody would focus on helping the Gulf Coast instead of on destroying an industry,” she said. Sen. Mark Begich (Alaska) concurred. Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.) also expressed misgivings.
“Originally this was going to be a cap-and-trade bill to match up with Waxman-Markey in the House,” Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), the ranking member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, tells National Review Online. “But they only have 34 votes — they’re not even close. With this oil spill, they thought that they could turn things around and use it as an excuse to pass something with energy provisions thrown in, masquerading it as an innocuous bill.”
“The truth is [Reid] saw the writing on the wall,” adds Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), the ranking member on the Senate Energy Committee. “The majority leader didn’t pull his bill because of Republican opposition, he pulled it because his fellow Democrats were deserting him, planning to vote against it and support the concepts of the Republican bill.”
Robert Dillon, the GOP spokesman for the Energy Committee, tells NRO that instead of slapping on blinders and addressing the spill, Reid was committed to kowtowing to the Left and tacking on additional provisions. “Reid took things he could buy votes with and threw them in the bill,” he says. “Instead of dealing with the spill in a bipartisan way, in a way that could have drawn broad support, he avoided a transparent process and clean debate.”
Dillon adds that Reid’s move to pull the bill owed more to politics than to GOP opposition. “This was a messaging bill [for Reid],” he says. “He never meant for it to pass or to get pass a cloture vote. The whole goal for the bill was to get Republicans to vote it down. It was only when Democrats began to peel off that he knew that spin would not work. His dog-and-pony show with the press happened because of his caucus.”