Shaheen-Portman Bill Highlights Senate’s Dysfunction

What had started out as a simple, bi-partisan energy-efficiency bill designed to create new incentives to spur greater use of energy-saving technologies in office buildings, manufacturing plants and residences has now become the latest piece in a political chess match where at this point it appears there will be no winner.

The Shaheen-Portman bill is sponsored by New Hampshire Democrat Jean Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman.  It has received support from other Democrats and Republicans, along with nearly 260 groups that run the political gamut — from the pro-business U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.

It is also strongly endorsed by NAED. During the NAED Congressional Fly-In on September 11, it was one of the main points discussed by our members with Senators and members of Congress and their staffs.  Almost unanimously, the NAED members attending the Fly-In announced that they had full support for the Shaheen-Portman Bill.

Yet, after a week of debate, the bill is stalled.

First, Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter propsed an amendment to the bill that would either reduce or eliminate the insurance premium premium subsidies that lawmakers and their aides will receive next year after they switch from federally provided health insurance to new health care exchanges created under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare.  The Act is the most debated issue in congress right now, with Republicans working to prevent it’s funding before it goes into effect on October 1.  Senator Vitter has put a “hold” on the Shaheen-Portman Bill, basically blocking all action on it, until he gets a vote on his ObamaCare amendment to it.

This has led to a number of reactions that caused USA Today newspaper to headline its story “Energy Debate Shows Congress’ Dysfunction”.  The story quotes Larry Sabato, the head of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, who says, “Bipartisan bills that are relatively non-controversial should move quickly through a legislative body that’s working. This tells you all you need to know. (The Senate) isn’t working.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid admitted during the Shaheen-Portman debate that this is “the least productive Senate in the history of the country.”

First, Democrats who are upset that an ObamaCare amendment is attached to a bi-partisan energy-efficiency bill that should pass with ease have announced their next move.  According to Politico, Democrats drafted legislation to deny lawmakers their health care premium subsidy if there is “probable cause” to believe they solicited prostitutes. That refers to the 2007 “D.C. Madam” scandal that linked Senator Vitter’s name to a high-priced prostitution services client list.  Senator Vitter responded by filing an ethics complaint, claiming the legislation is “attempted bribery designed to intimidate” him.

tED magazine and will continue following this debate, which will have a huge impact on our industry if it is passed.  On Thursday, September 19, more debate is scheduled, but a vote is unlikely.

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