Some bad ideas never die. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer continues to talk with Sen. Joe Manchin about reviving the Democrats’ Build Back Better legislation. The discussions are focusing on prescription tax increases, new price controls on drugs, and a package of energy provisions.
Rather than moderating the package to cushion their party’s slim majority with Republican votes, Democrats have begun to submit their revised bill through budget reconciliation—a Senate procedure that allows certain tax and spending measures to pass with only 51 votes. That strategy could prove to be a boon to Republicans.
Consider energy policy. Despite current shortages, Democrats want to subsidize renewable energy consistent with their climate shibboleths. If faced with a reconciliation bill loaded with solar-energy pork, Republicans could force Democratic colleagues to vote on pro-fossil-fuel provisions that could tamp down rising energy prices but that would be unsavory to the climate-obsessed left.
There’s a simple way to do it: Reintroduce provisions the Senate passed under budget reconciliation in 2005 to authorize oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These provisions would require the administration to offer leases by a certain date and expedite reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, which normally allow environmental groups to slow-walk leases and permits.
While the provisions were ultimately removed from the final version of the bill signed by President Bush, they passed the Senate via the reconciliation process—and thus were found compliant with Senate rules that limit what can be passed into law by that process.
This means that if Build Back Better is brought to the Senate floor via reconciliation, Republicans could simply reintroduce these energy-exploration amendments using the 2005 rubric. They would need only make clerical changes to the 2005 text—altering the required sales dates, lease site locations, and so forth. The amendments would need only a simple majority to pass, rather than the 60 votes usually required to break a filibuster. In other words, they’d need only one Democratic vote to clear the necessary threshold.
Energy legislation requiring that the Biden administration conduct leases—and expedite environmental reviews—would provide oil and gas companies with the certainty they need to bring in investment. And because oil and gas operate on spot markets, even the prospect of new energy supply coming online in future years could lower the price of oil and gas almost immediately. Given the pain that everyday Americans are feeling at the pump, it would be difficult for Democrats to justify voting them down.
Democratic senators with tough re-election contests in November— Raphael Warnock (Ga.), Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), and Maggie Hassan (NH)—would face an excruciating choice. They could oppose the GOP amendments and the interests of their constituents on arguably the most pressing issue facing American families. Or they could support them, and alienate climate radicals in the House and party leadership.
Mr. Jacobs is the founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group and author of “The Case Against Single Payer.”
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Appeared in the July 12, 2022, print edition as ‘GOP Gambit Could Build US Energy Back Better.’