A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee unanimously advanced an energy bill Wednesday, a departure for a panel that has engaged in heated partisan sniping and "messaging" bills over the past few years.
The voice vote on a sweeping package of electric grid, pipeline and energy efficiency measures easily sailed through the Energy and Power subcommittee. It is scheduled for a September markup by the full committee.
That the panel didn't walk into the heated partisan and rhetorical traps it has often set for itself was largely by design. The legislation avoids hot-button issues such as climate change and whether to lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports, which is expected to match the tone of a similar Senate bill that observers are anticipating will be released this month.
"A lot of these building codes, that's kind of esoteric. And standards for appliances, that's sort of esoteric. But it has a dramatic impact on consumers, on their costs. And like I've said, we've had seven hearings on these things, and they're very important," Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., the subcommittee's chairman, told reporters after the hearing.
But most of the contentious issues that could bog down the bill were held at bay for the eventual full markup, and even Whitfield recognized the victory may be temporary. When he asked near the end of the hearing whether there were any bipartisan or other amendments and there were none, he commented, "Marvelous. Marvelous," under his breath, to laughter from the audience and other subcommittee members.
"It's going to be extremely difficult to agree on everything. But we are motivated to do that. But we do have some deep philosophical differences. But the issues are not that complex, really," Whitfield said.
In a preview of what might be coming when the full committee convenes a markup, lawmakers pressed for their priorities to be addressed through the bill.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said he hopes the committee will roll his bill to scrap the oil export ban into the larger package. He noted the legislation has more than 100 co-sponsors and claimed "it has the votes to pass the committee ... the House and the Senate."
That might not be true of the Senate, though, as most Democrats want to maintain the ban. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told the Washington Examiner that the upper chamber doesn't have 60 supporters for scuttling the ban and noted that a few Republican "maybes" remain.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., added that the bill doesn't do enough to "reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate impacts," which he stressed needs to be addressed.
Still, Whitfield noted that even Republicans didn't get everything they wanted in the base bill. He said discussions are underway to kill a ban on using fossil fuels in federal facilities beyond 2030. Getting the bill first on firm, bipartisan footing was viewed as more important, he said.
House committee leaders said the negotiations were off to a good start.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., the top Democrat on the Energy and Power subcommittee, said that the bill was much improved over an earlier draft but that "much work remains." In an ode to childhood memories of smelling his grandmother baking cakes in Georgia, Rush recalled her saying that, "It smells good, but it ain't done" to describe the bill.
Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said he hoped the energy bill would build on other bipartisan measures that moved through the committee, such as one to update the nation's toxic chemicals law.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the panel's top Democrat, agreed those previous efforts helped create momentum.
"Hopefully, this will be a way that we can do similar things on a bipartisan basis and significant things with regard to energy," he said at the hearing.