Amid logjam, energy issues stand as potential bright spot

Source: By Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Following an election that put Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, there are a few opportunities for potential compromise — including approval of liquefied natural gas exports or new pipelines and power lines — if President Obama and congressional Republicans find it in their mutual interest to bargain.

To be sure, the midterm election is unlikely to diminish gridlock’s hold on Washington, and sources in both parties are girding for potentially extensive battles over controversial regulations from U.S. EPA and other agencies. Soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed to fight at every turn, including with appropriations riders that raise the specter of another government shutdown. And the White House has signaled that Obama will continue using his executive authority to combat climate change, moves sure to rankle McConnell and other Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But energy-focused export and infrastructure legislation, along with smaller proposals, carries the best hope for success in the next two years.

Several unpredictable factors will affect the outcome. At least four GOP senators are reportedly preparing to run for president in 2016, where they will have to sway the party’s most conservative voters in hotly contested primaries. But at the same time, seven Republicans will have to fight for re-election in states Obama won twice, requiring a more moderate set of positions.

It is too early to say definitively how Republicans will use their new majority. Most lawmakers have not spent more than a few consecutive days in the capital since midsummer, and detailed legislative strategizing was mostly put on hold for the campaign.

Attention will turn first to the lame-duck session set to begin next week, during which Congress is expected to pursue a relatively light legislative agenda, while outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) likely will fill the Senate’s calendar with as many of the president’s nominees as he can confirm before handing over his majority in January.

The continuing resolution expires Dec. 11, requiring new spending legislation to keep the government running beyond then, and lawmakers from both parties have indicated a desire to reinstate some lapsed business tax breaks.

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers agree on an omnibus appropriations bill for the remainder of fiscal 2015 or a shorter-term continuing resolution that would give a new GOP Senate majority another crack at shaping spending policy for this year.

The tax landscape is similarly uncertain. The House has voted to make permanent just a few of the perennially expiring breaks known as “tax extenders,” such as the research and development tax credit, and GOP leaders there say they would like to end most of the incentives that are typically combined in an extenders package. In the Senate, Democratic leaders are pushing for a broader bill that won bipartisan support in the Finance Committee to continue all of the extenders through the end of next year, including provisions for renewable energy and biofuels.

Negotiations were largely on hold until the election but are expected to pick up steam once lawmakers return Nov. 12 for the lame-duck session.

A familiar agenda for next year