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Senate Battle over Judicial Nominations Could 'Upset' Chances for Energy Bill

May 23, 2005
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If Senate Republicans vote to abolish filibusters for judicial nominations, it will "upset any chance for an energy bill soon" to emerge from the chamber, said a noted Washington, DC journalist and author last Wednesday.

"It takes a certain amount of cooperation" between majority Republicans and minority Democrats to get legislation out of the Senate, and that level of harmony is not present in the Senate now, said Ron Elving, senior Washington editor for National Public Radio News and author of the book Conflict and Compromise: How Congress Makes the Law, during a briefing sponsored by Stanford Washington Research Group.

If Senate Republicans take away the filibuster option for judicial nominations, Democrats will go into the filibuster mode on everything else, including the omnibus energy bill, he said. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee began mark-up of the energy bill last week. It is expected to continue this week.

It "[will be] extremely difficult for the Senate to conduct business until the Republicans back down" on this issue, Elving said. Senate Democrats have vowed to use procedural tactics to hang up legislation if the Republicans vote to abolish the filibuster, a parliamentary delaying measure, and require a simple majority of 51 votes (rather than 60 votes) to confirm judicial nominees.

"I see them making it extremely frustrating for [Senate Majority Leader Bill] Frist to come to work each day," Elving said. The Senate essentially will be "useless until this is worked out." Conceivably, he doesn't think much will happen in the Senate between now and the Memorial Day recess if warfare between the GOP and Democrats persists.

This is a "slow-motion train wreck" that could potentially crash this week, he noted. "The best way to have this worked out is to have someone take this out of the hands of the leadership."

Meanwhile, the question of whether federal lawmakers will be able to pass comprehensive energy legislation was a hot topic at Deloitte's 2005 energy conference in Washington, DC, on Thursday.

"The prospects for the bill are uncertain, but I remain hopeful that Congress will act," said FERC Commissioner Joseph Kelliher at the conference. He said that he is "more optimistic" about the energy bill's prospects than at any point in the past four years.

"The key to energy legislation is whether or not a bi-partisan bill emerges from the Senate energy committee," he said. "If a bi-partisan bill emerges from the committee, I think the chances are excellent for enactment of an energy bill, but if not, I think the chances are remote."

Kelliher also has "personal confidence" in Domenici. "He is a superb legislator, with a proven track record of success, and I think if anyone can get energy legislation passed in the Senate this year, it is Chairman Domenici."

The FERC Commissioner said that if Congress fails to act on energy legislation in 2005, "we will have missed a great opportunity to enact an energy bill that would avoid a future crisis."

Walter Higgins, CEO of Sierra Pacific Resources, said that "We want the Congress to stop squabbling, stop delaying, to some extent, stop playing partisan politics on this issue and get on with something that is very critical to everybody in our society. Or, to use Nike's slogan, 'Just do it.'"

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