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Election politics kill popular energy savings bill

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WASHINGTON – A widely popular, bipartisan energy savings bill fell victim in the Senate on Monday to election-year politics and the Obama administration’s continued indecision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

A procedural motion to end debate and bring the measure to a floor vote without amendments fell five votes short of the 60 needed for approval.

The legislation would tighten efficiency guidelines for new federal buildings, and provide tax incentives to make homes and commercial buildings more efficient. It easily cleared a procedural hurdle last week but stalled after a Republican demand for votes on the Canada-to-Texas pipeline and on new administration-proposed greenhouse gas limits for coal-burning power plants.

REID: GOP still "seeking a ransom" on energy bill

REID: GOP still “seeking a ransom” on energy bill

Republicans are united in favor of the pipeline and against the new power plant regulations, while Democrats are deeply divided on both. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a parliamentary maneuver to block Senate votes on the pipeline and power plant rules as part of the energy savings bill. Reid said Monday that Republicans were “still seeking a ransom” on the energy bill by insisting on the Keystone amendment and other votes. He said he had agreed to a long-standing request from pipeline supporters for a separate vote on the pipeline if its supporters would let the efficiency bill sail through unamended.

CORNYN: Senate is now run like a dictatorship

CORNYN: Senate is now run like a dictatorship

Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, called Reid’s maneuver disappointing. “The Senate used to be a place of great debate and accomplishment. Now, it is run like a dictatorship, shutting out the voices of millions of Americans,” he said.

Election-year politics loomed on all sides. Democrats said Republicans were unwilling to hand a victory on the energy efficiency bill to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a co-author of the bill who is facing a re-election challenge from Republican Scott Brown.

Partisan discord was so strong that three Republican senators who co-sponsored the energy legislation voted against it Monday to protest the exclusion of amendments. Among them was Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican who has been the Senate’s chief GOP supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Democrats also said the GOP wants to deny political cover to Sen. Mary Landrieu, who faces a tough re-election fight in Louisiana, and to other Democrats in energy-producing states who have pushed for the pipeline’s approval. A Senate vote on the pipeline would help Landrieu and Democrats such as Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, even if it fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance it. President Barack Obama delayed the project indefinitely last month, citing uncertainty over the pipeline’s route though Nebraska.

Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, has made Keystone approval an important part of her re-election campaign. She angrily denounced Republicans who opposed the energy bill, a move that also blocks a Senate vote on the pipeline.

“They chose to have an issue, as opposed to having a pipeline, and that’s very disappointing,” Landrieu said, naming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as the chief culprit.

On the other side, Republicans accused Democrats of dodging a vote on blocking the Obama administration’s proposed limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. No matter the outcome, having to vote on what Republicans call Obama’s “war on coal” would be uncomfortable for Democrats struggling to hold their Senate majority. Many Democrats in energy-producing states oppose the regulations.

Republicans also wanted a vote on boosting exports of liquefied natural gas, another hot political issue. Lawmakers from both parties support increased gas exports, although 22 senators – mostly Democrats – wrote a letter to Obama last week warning that increased exports could lead to higher prices for consumers and possible shortages next winter.

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