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The House Passed Its Oil Spill Bill; Now What?

With House passage of broad oil spill response legislation late Friday, all eyes are on the Senate this week as Democrats fight to find the votes necessary to pass oil spill and energy legislation.

But, as I’ve noted here before, prospects don’t look good. The Republican caucus is expected to vote against the bill en masse and at least two Democrats, Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Begich (Alaska), are raising serious concerns about the bill — specifically, the language that would lift the liability cap on a company’s economic damages in the event of an oil spill. They argue that only the huge oil companies can afford to insure against such massive liability and that the liability provision would drive out small- and medium-sized companies.

Landrieu has also said she won’t vote for any bill that does not include revenue sharing, which would give a certain percentage of the profits from offshore drilling to coastal states. Despite Landrieu’s call for this system, it would be a tough sell for a number of lawmakers, including Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Bingaman, and others, argue that since offshore drilling takes place in federal waters, revenue should be shared equally with all states.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is expected to push ahead this week with an attempt to pass the bill, but press reports indicate that it won’t even pass the first procedural hurdle necessary to move forward with debate. And time is not on Reid’s side. The Senate is scheduled to adjourn Friday for the August recess, and the schedule is tight. The nomination of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan — a major Senate priority — is also on the table, and Reid would like to deal with the energy bill before beginning that vote.

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