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Congress May Produce Electric Bills by Recess

Congress May Produce Electric Bills by Recess

Key pieces of comprehensive legislation aimed at restructuring the electric industry could very well come out of both the House and the Senate before lawmakers leave for recess in early August, Capitol Hill observers say.

Top House Republicans - Majority Leader Richard Armey (T-TX), Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-VA) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) - are drafting a restructuring measure, which they hope to introduce in "the next week or so," according to one industry source.

The House Republicans "aren't sharing" any of the details of their proposal with Democratic colleagues, which "has caused a tremendous amount of distrust," he said. Democrats on the Commerce Committee's energy and power panel are especially concerned that Bliley is trying to turn electricity restructuring into a "partisan issue."

Also, "I think DeLay and Armey are inclined to do things that are more intrusive into the states" than what the Democrats would prefer, the source noted. That "puts into question quite a bit the issue of [federal] preemption" of states' rights.

In the House, "we could seek a bill before the August recess. The question is whether the Democrats will agree to it or not. It appears there's a greater chance for partisan fighting in the House than the Senate" over this issue.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-AK) reportedly is looking to draft his own bill on electricity restructuring, then circulate it among committee members and go straight to mark-up. He is trying to elicit the support of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the ranking Democrat on the committee.

"The Senate has a very ambitious schedule. They want to mark this bill up before the August recess. But whether it will be reported out or not, I don't know," the observer said. The message from both chambers is that "electricity restructuring is clearly beginning to move."

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