House Democrats will offer a discharge petition today in an
attempt to force floor consideration of mandatory electricity
reliability standards. While the effort appears doomed to
failure, backers said they hope the attempt puts some
election-year pressure on Republicans from states affected by
last summer's blackout.
House and Senate Democrats have been trying to pressure
Republicans to debate the popular and bipartisan reliability
language, which is part of the comprehensive energy conference
legislation that remains stalled in the Senate. Republicans have
focused instead on getting two more Senate Democrats to vote in
favor of the conference bill and have thwarted attempts to do
piecemeal debate on separate sections. Republicans, however, did
agree to debate billions of dollars worth of energy tax
incentives as part of pending corporate tax bill discussions.
Because a discharge petition requires the support of a
majority of House members, Democrats cannot force the bill to
the floor without some Republican signatures. So far they have
none. The minority party tried a similar approach last week on a
bill that would give the HHS secretary the power to negotiate
drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. So far, there are no
Republican names on that petition either.
"Obviously, we would love to get Republicans to sign on, but
I don't know how realistic that is," said a spokesman for Rep.
Timothy Bishop, D-N.Y., whose state was one of those affected by
the blackouts and is helping to lead the electricity reliability
effort with House Minority Whip Hoyer and Energy and Commerce
ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich. Marc Yacker, director of
government and public affairs for the Electricity Consumers
Resource Council, which represents large industrial users of
electricity, offered an assessment that was even bleaker. "I
can't see this getting the requisite number of signatures before
Congress goes out this Friday," he said.
The Democrats' petition pitch comes during the last week
Congress is in session prior to the one-year anniversary of the
August 14 blackout that hit parts of eight states and Canada. An
electricity industry lobbyist said the discharge petition is
"strictly politics," designed to make Republicans in tight races
go back to their districts "and explain why their party is not
allowing a separate electricity reliability vote to the floor."
The lobbyist added that there is still a chance for bipartisan
support to move separate electricity reliability language after
lawmakers return from recess.