Spill Bill Duel, Nobody Wins

The clock is running down for the Senate to pass its oil-spill-and-energy package before the August recess. The House passed their bill on Friday, but the Senate has been caught up in bickering over legislation to address what is by far the worst oil spill in US history. It seems very likely that the Senate won’t pass even this much-scaled back version of the legislation.

Senate Democrats have a package that includes spill-response measures with some energy provisions. Senate Republicans have offered their own suite of measures, which includes lifting the moratorium on new deepwater drilling.

The biggest flash point is the liability cap for oil spills, which is currently set at just $75 million. The Democrats’ bill would eliminate it entirely. Republicans support raising it, but not too much; their bill give the administration prerogative to adjust the limit in light of specific incidents. The liability cap is also an issue for moderate Democrats, who have been working on a compromise package that likely to be ready in time for consideration this week.

Both the Republican and Democratic bills will get a procedural vote on Wednesday, though neither is expected to pass. In all likelihood, the Senate will adjourn this week with nothing accomplished on the subject.

But that doesn’t mean both sides will go home empty handed; both will use the issue to bash the other party heading into the November elections. Robert Dillon, spokesman for Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, has already given us a taste of what’s to come. Here’s his email blast to reporters today:

We’ve gone from the majority leader scheduling two weeks to do energy legislation to one week to two days to one day to a couple of hours—for a process that can take months to do properly… This is further evidence that the majority leader does not expect the energy bill to move forward and that this is simply an exercise in political messaging. It also calls into question who really wrote the bill introduced by Majority Leader Reid.

He continues:

Instead of turning a tragic disaster into a messaging strategy, the majority leader should be focusing on passing a bill to help restore balance to the Gulf and the offshore drilling industry. He, however, has chosen to once again play partisan games and not allow a full debate and open amendment process on either of the proposed bills.

Just a taste of the partisan back and forth we can expect on the floor tomorrow as senators manage to do absolutely nothing meaningful on the Gulf disaster before checking out for the month. Just another day in the most august elected body in our land!