What Would A GOP Senate Mean for Energy Policy? It All Depends

Both parties have to figure out how to advance their longer term agendas with a Congress controlled by Republicans. A lot depends on President Obama and whether he morphs into Bill Clinton after 1994 when he willingly worked with Newt Gingrich to pass legislation and benefit from a booming economy that occurred. President Obama may not be able to make that kind of accommodation since he came to office with little experience with the legislative process and the need to find common ground.

A Republican Senate would need to demonstrate that it can legislate and obtain more than strict party line votes. Unless that happens, the democrats will have just reversed roles in being obstacles. Without working for bipartisan legislation, the Democrats can just filibuster, and filibuster. In demonstrating that it can actually get things done, the Senate Majority Leader, presumably Mitch McConnell, will have to build enough support to marginalize ideologues like Ted Cruz who are not interest in governing, just promoting an ideology that the American people will reject.

With an expected Democratic loss, an important question is whether the Democrats will conclude that they have had enough of Harry Reid and his unwillingness to let the legislative process operate. Both parties need leaders who embrace Henry Clay’s wise counsel that “politics is not about political purity or ideology. It is about governing and if you can’t compromise, you can’t govern.”

Energy would have a high priority but perhaps not as high as candidates have suggested. Survival is the first priority and legislation that would help 2016 republican incumbents get reelected will almost certainly be at the top of the list. In two years, Republicans will have over twice as many senators up for reelection as Democrats—24 to 10. Having just recaptured the Senate, they will do everything possible to make sure that it doesn’t flip in two years.

That suggests that the economy will be at the top of the list. Actually passing a budget to get rid of the sequester, raising the debt ceiling, and initiating actions that boost both consumer and business confidence should be good starting points. While tax reform should be at the top of the list, it is one of the most difficult legislative accomplishments to pursue—read Showdown at Gucci Gulch by Alan Murray—so Republicans may only give lip service unless some real bipartisan trust can be developed. An even then, it would take a miracle to pass true reform in 2015.

Republicans have promised to do something about Obamacare and they can’t refuse a process that begins to fix the acknowledged problems. Repeal is surely a bridge too far.

That is already a big agenda without anything on energy. The easiest energy policy matters to address that might generate Democratic support and have a fair chance of the President signing them are Keystone XL, removing crude oil export restrictions, and streamlining the LNG permitting process. Opening up the OCS and regulatory reform are probably off the table. As are any efforts to scale back or eliminate alternative energy subsidies which are a great waste of resources and a stimulus for crony capitalism.

Even if Congress can make progress on bi-partisan legislation, there is no guarantee that the President will sign legislation that doesn’t have well above 60 votes. He has not shown any signs of flexibility and it is not clear that he will listen to the voters unless the Republicans enjoy a blow out.

This article appeared on the National Journal’s Energy Insiders weblog at http://disqus.com/wokeefe/

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