With the House out of session this week, the Senate will grab the spotlight in Congress with votes on two key agenda items: energy and tax cuts.
Lawmakers will vote Monday on whether to end debate on an energy-efficiency bill that has been the subject of intense partisan bickering this month.
The measure would help increase the use of energy-efficient technology in homes and businesses and would create jobs, proponents say.
But despite its appeal to both parties, the legislation is likely headed for defeat on Monday.
Democrats, who control 55 votes, are unlikely to pick up the five Republican votes necessary to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote on the measure.
That's because GOP lawmakers did not get their wish to amend the bill with energy provisions that are a top priority to the Republican party. Those amendments include speeding up natural gas exports, blocking new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on new coal-fired power plants and banning a tax on carbon emissions.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., rejected the GOP’s move to amend the bill last week, saying the Republican provisions were not germane to the legislation.
Instead Reid stuck to his original offer. In exchange for Republicans passing the energy-efficiency bill, Reid would call up a vote on a binding measure to allow the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline project, which is another top GOP priority.
Republicans, and several Democrats, are eager to greenlight the pipeline, which would extend from the oil sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast. The Obama administration, which is under pressure from green energy groups to block the project because it would increase oil production, has put off making a decision on whether to allow its construction until after the key 2014 midterm elections.
Proponents of the Keystone measure say there are 58 Republican and Democratic senators who would vote for it, three shy of what is needed to keep the bill from failing.
With no Keystone win in sight, Republicans have rejected Reid’s offer, insisting on getting their five amendments to the energy-efficiency bill.
“It seems like this is nothing but a game of diversion and obstruction to many Senate Republicans,” Reid said last week. “But it's not a game. Every time a group of Republicans feigns interest in bipartisanship, only to scramble away at the last moment, it is part of a calculated political scheme.”
Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the amendments, such as the one blocking new coal regulations, are important and would boost the nation's sagging economy.
“The Obama administration's extreme regulations would hammer existing coal facilities too, taking the ax to even more American coal jobs in the midst of an awful economy,” McConnell said.
With no deal in sight, the bill is likely to fail on Monday, leaving lawmakers to debate a tax cut bill that is far more popular.
At a cost of $85 billion, the bill would extend by two years or longer more than 50 tax cut measures for businesses and individuals that expired at the end of last year.
For individuals, they include deduction of mortgage interest premiums, college tuition, charitable contributions and employer-subsidized mass transit costs.
Corporate tax credits in the bill include the popular research and experimentation tax credit and tax breaks for racehorse owners and rum producers.
Roll Call reported last week that Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., may try to amend the legislation with a provision to extend the expired federal unemployment insurance benefits, which have stalled since passing the Senate earlier this year. Republicans have refused to take up the bill, but the popular tax cut legislation could serve as a vehicle to get lawmakers to pass the jobless pay provision.
The House, meanwhile, is working on its own legislation to restore the expired tax cuts.
Last week, the House passed a permanent extension of the research and experimentation tax credit. Lawmakers plan to take up other tax credit extensions one at a time and perhaps extend more on a permanent basis, a move opposed by Democrats, who say it’s too expensive.
The research and development measure would cost $151 billion over 10 years.