Senators Still Negotiating Forward Movement on Energy Reform Bill

Originally published by: The HillApril 6, 2016

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Lawmakers are expressing frustration as talks over an aid package for Flint, Mich., and a broad energy reform bill stall in the Senate.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is helping to lead the charge on the aid package, said this week that Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has so far refused to lift his hold on the measure despite a budget office report showing it would not add to the federal deficit.

Lee’s office said it sent Stabenow a new offer on the deal Monday but wouldn’t give specifics.

“Staff has been talking this afternoon, but there’s no good reason for this,” Stabenow said Tuesday.

“It’s bipartisan, completely paid-for, includes deficit reduction. For me, this is about helping 9,000 children in Flint who have lead poisoning, as well as the entire community, and I don’t understand.”

If Lee lifts his hold on the $250 million package to pay for water infrastructure repairs in Flint and elsewhere, senators will have cleared a major hurdle to resuming consideration of an energy reform bill. Lawmakers pulled the measure from the floor in February after Democrats blocked the legislation, which didn’t address the water crisis in Flint.

But Lee’s hold is not the only one on the package. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) wants to block the bill unless Republicans drop plans to vote on an amendment to expand revenue sharing for offshore oil drilling. Nelson is worried the energy bill would encourage drilling off the coast of Florida.

Asked Wednesday if he still has a hold on the legislation, Nelson smiled and said, “Of course I do."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and lead sponsor of the reform bill, said Wednesday she hopes to resolve the issues soon, before the Senate moves into the 2017 appropriations process.

“There is a schedule that [Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.] would like to keep, and I concur with him,” she said. “But if we’ve got a consent agreement that allows for a very limited time and we can just move right through [the energy bill], then we can cut and paste, if you will. And I’d like to do that.”

Murkowski’s Democratic counterpart, Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), said the bill could be the next one to come to the floor, though she acknowledged that she and others have been saying that for weeks.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “It’s a shame, there’s so much important energy policy. Hopefully, our colleagues that are holding it up will stop doing that.”