Spill Bill On Hold

By Libby Casey

Alaska’s Democratic Senator Mark Begich’s decision to vote “no” on his party’s oil spill bill contributed to the legislation getting shelved today.

The Senate Majority Leader, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, pulled the plug on the bill he had crafted and hoped to bring to the floor this week.  Instead it will wait until after the August recess, which starts this weekend and lasts a month.

Reid blamed Republicans for not getting on board… but Senator Begich and his fellow Democrat, Louisianan Mary Landrieu were opposed, too.

I could see that the leadership recognized they don’t have the votes to get there because myself and Mary Landrieu were not supportive of the overall bill at this point.

Begich disliked the Democrats’ plan to do away with a cap on the amount of liability money oil companies are responsible for in the case of a spill.  He also disagreed with their model for revenue sharing.

But Begich said with some tweaks, he would have crossed party lines and voted for a Republican version of a spill bill.

I don’t care who drafts the bill, if the elements… I don’t care if it’s Republican or Democrat, if it’s of interest to me, like on that Republican one, I liked the revenue sharing, I liked some other elements, I’ll bet you if they thought they could get some Democrats, like myself and Mary Landrieu and others, they would’ve fixed this piece.  That’s why I think what we’re doing is practical.

Begich wanted the Republicans to hammer out their liability cap details to make sure taxpayers aren’t the stop-gap in a worst-case spill.  He also wanted to make sure that the Republican plan applies not just to future leases, but current ones.

Alaska’s junior Senator is getting a lot of attention in Washington for being one of the few Democrats to oppose his party’s bill, which slowed down its vote.  But Begich says holding off until September may prove beneficial, both for getting more Alaskan items in the legislation, and for the overall bill.

My objective has been reached.  Rational discussion on an energy and how we do it.  and back to the discussion of comprehensive energy legislation.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski says she’s not surprised the Democrats’ bill got scuttled for now, and says there was too much focus on spin and speed and not enough on crafting decent legislation.

I think the one positive thing that I did hear from the Majority leader was that he intends to come back to this in September.  And that will be a good thing.  We won’t be butting up against August recess, we won’t have the Kagan nomination in front of us, hopefully we’ll have time on calendar he’s allocated to an actual debate, hopefully that will mean opportunity for amendments.

Murkowski says she is willing to work with Senators Begich and Landrieu on a bill, to see if their goals can fit into what Republicans have on the table.

If we can come to agreement, that we need to be resolving some of these issues — whether it’s the liability, whether it’s the restructuring of MMS, whether it’s how we might ensure that not only future leases but current leases — if there is an event like this that taxpayers are not on the hook.  And I think we all agree that that is, at the end of the day, what we want to ensure.

The House passed its own spill bill last week… but without Senate action, it can’t go anywhere.


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