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A Bad Week for the US Senate

By Ed Orlet

The US Senate Thursday failed to pass bipartisan legislation that would extend provisions of tax law critical to NAED members. The Senate is a strange place. It has the reputation as the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.” It was conceived to give the states a voice in the federal government. It has played the lead role in monumentally important debates over the direction of our Republic. It has seen everything from cane fights, to lighthearted wrestling matches, to the Sergeant at Arms compelling members to the Chamber for a quorum. The Senate has shown itself capable of achieving great ends and of showing great leadership. These days, however, the Senate can’t even pass a bill everyone supports.

It happened twice this week. First, the bipartisan Shaheen-Portman Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act stalled, followed later in the week by a bipartisan tax extenders package. Some Senators who voted against the tax extenders did so to make a political statement about the way Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is managing the amendment process.

Discussion of Senate parliamentary procedure typically results in either eyes glazing over or utter bewilderment – so let’s avoid that. It’s enough to say that Republicans complain that Democrats won’t allow votes on amendments to otherwise bipartisan legislation. Democrats complain that Republican amendments are political in nature and meant to embarrass or otherwise politically damage Democrats. Both are, to some extent, accurate.

So we’ve got two good bills that NAED supports languishing in legislative limbo. Where do we go from here? Harry Reid changed his vote on the extenders bill to “nay” so he could move to reconsider the bill at a later date. And Reid showed some flexibility on negotiating some amendments to the bill. Hopefully we’ll see an agreement soon that will extend, among other things, existing section 179 expensing and the commercial buildings tax deduction. The path forward on Shaheen-Portman is less clear. Leadership aides have indicated that it’s failure and the fact that it’s been hopelessly intertwined with the unrelated Keystone XL pipeline issue make it far less likely to see further Senate action this year.

Edward Orlet is the Vice President Government Affairs for the National Association of Electrical Distributors.

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