Washington Digest: Senate hits brick walls on taxes, energy efficiency

WASHINGTON – The Senate continued to stumble last week, failing to make progress on bills that would cut taxes and encourage energy efficiency.

Senate leaders hit another impasse over what if any amendments would be debated on those bills even as they enjoyed bipartisan support. Consequently each failed to gain the 60 votes necessary to advance.

Senators voted 55-36 — five votes short — on a motion to open debate on a bill by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. It would direct manufacturers and the government to cooperate on developing model regulations and building codes to make homes and commercial buildings more energy-efficient.

Republicans charged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was blocking their efforts to call votes on five pro-energy amendments, including one to restrict EPA rules on carbon emissions from power plants.

Reid said Republicans were trying to move the goalposts from a previous agreement that would have allowed a vote on the controversial Keystone pipeline in exchange for no amendments on the energy efficiency bill.

The vote fell largely along party lines, with most Democrats voting to advance the bill and most Republicans voting to hold it up. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted for the bill. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., at home recovering from heart surgery, did not vote.

Senators went through a similar exercise on a bill that would extend 55 tax breaks targeted to individuals and businesses. Among other things, the $85 billion bill would continue deductions for research and development, renewable energy production, state and local sales taxes and movies and television shows produced in distressed parts of the country.

Republicans filibustered, arguing that Reid was attempting to close the bill without allowing amendments. Both sides said they would try to work out a deal on amendments and revive the politically popular bill in the coming days.

The 53-40 procedural vote on the tax extenders bill — seven short of the necessary 60— fell largely along party lines. Pryor voted to advance the bill. Boozman did not vote.