Murkowski fights off GOP urge to drop energy bill until Trump takes office

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is fighting to save her energy bill from being punted into the next administration by her eager Republican colleagues in the U.S. House.

With a Republican headed to the White House, some lawmakers would rather put Murkowski's long-fought energy bill on hold until President-elect Donald Trump takes over, in hopes of turning out legislation with more partisan flavor.

Murkowski called that "crazy talk."

Murkowski said she has told her colleagues in the House that "it's not easy to just start over." She noted that the Senate has responsibilities the lower chamber does not — to hold hearings on and confirm political appointees to the new administration.

Some 1,270 presidential appointees require Senate approval, including Cabinet secretaries, heads and deputies in federal agencies and ambassadors. For the first four or five months of 2017, "that's all any of these committees are doing," Murkowski said.

She also noted that the Senate actually will have a smaller Republican majority next year than it does now, and either way the legislation will need 60 votes — including some from Democrats — to pass.

But House members thought they could get a "better deal" next year, she said. Negotiations are ongoing.


[September 2016: Conference committee on Murkowski energy bill opens with calls for bipartisanship]

On Friday, House chairmen of energy and natural resources committees Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, released a joint statement after sending some sort of "bipartisan proposal" to the Senate regarding the bill.

"This offer reflects policies that represent the current bipartisan consensus in the House," they said. "We welcome any suggestions from the Senate and remain open to continuing to work with our Senate colleagues and concluding this conference in a productive manner."

Staffers have been tight-lipped about what exactly the proposal said. The statement itself says very little — and it's not clear whether ending the conference means voting on legislation.

Spokespeople for the energy committees in the House and Senate declined to answer any questions about the state of negotiations over Murkowski's energy bill.

The last major energy bill passed by Congress was in 2007. Murkowski worked closely with Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the top-ranking Democrat on her committee, to avoid partisan issues that could hold up the new bill, like climate change or offshore drilling revenues.

The bill instead hits on a range of more broadly palatable issues, like boosting infrastructure, carving away duplicative regulations and advancing hydropower and microgrid technology.

Murkowski has described her bill as "inclusive by design."

"I'm pushing to finish this out" before the end of the year, Murkowski said. "There's good stuff in it, so let's get this over the finish line."

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is Alaska Dispatch News' Washington, DC reporter, and she covers the legislation, regulation and litigation that impact the Last Frontier.  Erica came to ADN after years as a reporter covering energy at POLITICO. Before that, she covered environmental policy at a DC trade publication and worked at several New York dailies.