By Jonathan Chait
For more than three years, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Senator Rob Portman have been cooperating on a bill to improve energy efficiency standards. They carefully assembled a wide coalition, ranging from conservative business lobbies to liberal environmentalists, and trimmed away any remotely controversial provisions, leaving a series of modest-size but worthy reforms that helped business save money by reducing energy use. It appeared headed for passage, and even had bipartisan House sponsors. Then Monday the bill suddenly died. It died for reasons that were initially mysterious, but which turn out to clarify not only the legislation’s fate but the broader reason why national politics, in the form Americans wish it to exist, is dead and can never return.
The proximate cause of the legislation’s demise was the demand by Republican Senators to hold votes on controversial amendments on issues like approving the Keystone pipeline and preventing new regulations on power plants. Obviously, attaching divisive amendments to a bill that was painstakingly written to avoid controversy is going to fracture its coalition, and so it did. The reason Senate Republicans decided to fracture the coalition for an energy bill everybody seemed to like, Sabrina Siddiqui and Ryan Grim report, is that Scott Brown asked them to. Brown is running against Shaheen this November, and Republicans — especially would-be Majority leader Mitch McConnell — want Brown to beat Shaheen because they want to win a majority.
Brown needs to deprive Shaheen of the afterglow that would come from shepherding a (now rare) bipartisan bill through Congress. And, indeed, when Senate Republicans killed Shaheen’s bill, the New Hampshire Republican Party immediately highlighted its failure to attack her:
Senator Shaheen has called the Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill her 'defining' legislation. But after its defeat, Senator Shaheen doesn't have a single legislative accomplishment to run on as she seeks re-election. It's time to end Jeanne Shaheen's failed tenure in the Senate and replace her with a responsible Republican who can get results for New Hampshire.
For a voter paying close attention to the Senate’s machinations, this makes little sense: Republicans are arguing that their torpedoing of Shaheen’s bill proves Shaheen is a legislative failure. But few voters follow politics so closely, and even those reading detailed coverage of the bill’s failure would quickly get lost in an arcane procedural dispute that putatively caused its demise.