The first energy bill of the new year could feature a bit of a role reversal.
With Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the incoming majority leader, saying the Keystone XL pipeline approval legislation will be the first item of business in the 114th Congress, lead GOP sponsor John Hoeven of North Dakota mooted the possible return of bipartisan energy efficiency legislation.
"If they want to, they can offer it," Hoeven said of legislation Republican Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire tried repeatedly to move across the Senate floor. "As a matter of fact, I've had already had that conversation with them not once, but many times."
The Shaheen-Portman bill fell victim to broader Senate dysfunction , a convenient punching bag for unrelated amendment disputes. Hoeven says his willingness to subject the pipeline measure to the potential of an open floor helped him get first in the queue.
"If somebody can get 60 votes for their amendment, then it'll pass," Hoeven said. "That's how we want to do business in the new Congress to try to get the work done, so yeah, that's how we're going to approach it and people can put up their amendments, and we'll see what there's support for."
"That's part of the reason that I was able to convince leadership to bring this bill up because I'm certainly comfortable with an open amendment process, and that's how we want to approach it," Hoeven continued.
Like McConnell, Hoeven said he hoped his colleagues would focus on energy policy in the first floor debate, but he would not preclude other amendments on contentious topics. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who will become the minority whip next year, said he hoped Democrats wouldn't engage in constant filibusters seen in recent years if Republicans stick to their word.
"They say that it's going to be an open process, and I assume that means there'll be some latitude to offer amendments. I don't know what the standards will be. That's up to Sen. McConnell, but I hope it gives us a chance to bring up issues that otherwise might get stuck in committee," Durbin told CQ Roll Call.
One other energy proposal could be liquefied natural gas export proposal championed by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
"I think he'll bring that as a separate bill, but he may offer it. We've talked about it both ways," Hoeven said of Barrasso's measure.
Following through on their pledge could win significant goodwill with Democrats on routine legislation. Just ask Durbin.
"I can't wait. I really can't. I mean, I've been pleading in our own caucus for a long time to get back to the Senate I remember, where's there's real debate on real amendments, and you get a chance to stand up, defend your point of view, take exception to your opponent's point of view," Durbin said. "That's the Senate I remember when I first got here."
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