Murkowski Sullivan contend with lessRepublican Senate

first_imgPhoto by Liz RuskinLast year, it was all eyes on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, since she was one of only a handful of Republicans who would sometimes vote with Democrats in the U.S. Senate. The fate of health care and tax bills seemed at times to turn on what she would do. But this year is shaping up differently in the Senate, and both Alaska senators will have to contend with new dynamics. Listen nowMurkowski was a pivotal vote last year because her party leaders pushed Republican bills they could be sure no Democrat would vote for. The Senate was split 52-48, so it only took Sens. Murkowski, Susan Collins and John McCain joining the Democrats to kill the Republican health care bill last summer. After that, says Political scientist Molly Reynolds, Senate leaders made sure their tax bill would include a plum for Murkowski: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Molly E. Reynolds. Photo: Brookings Institution.“We saw her use some of her leverage to get something that was an important policy priority for her out of a narrowly divided Senate,” says Reynolds, a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.This year, the Republican majority is slimmer. Now they can only afford to lose ONE senator and still have a simple majority. So you might think winning Murkowski’s vote will be even more crucial to the Republican agenda.But that’s not how it works, not this year.“We’re going to be looking for areas of bipartisan agreement, because that’s the way the Senate is,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at his year-end press conference, right after passing a tax bill with no bipartisan agreement. This year, he’s not trying to pass partisan goals in budget bills that need just 50 Republican votes. His majority is too slim. Instead, he’s trying to move bills that will require 60 votes to proceed. The bills will have to be moderate enough to pick up nine Democratic votes. So to see their priorities pass, both Alaska senators will have to aim for bipartisanship.In this 60-vote scenario, Murkowski is unlikely to be the pivotal vote. She says that’s fineSens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Photo: Liz Ruskinwith her. “You need to do things around here because the right things to do, not because you can do them because you have one more vote than the other side,” she said.Among her bipartisan goals: passing her broad energy and natural resources bill. That’s a big bundle of Republican and Democratic priorities, covering everything from energy efficiency to park management and protection from landslides. And then, there’s the bipartisan crowd pleaser bill.“Everyone is talking about infrastructure as being the thing that allows us all to come together,” Murkowski said. “We all want to build things. That’s a winner for everybody.”She says, though, she’s concerned about cost. Murkowski is one of the most moderate Republicans. According to ProPublica data, her votes strayed from the party line 17 times last year. Sen. Dan Sullivan votes with the party more often than most of his colleagues. He strayed just four times last year.But Sullivan has bipartisan goals, too. He points out he had a lot of Democratic support for the missile defense expansion for Fort Greeley, which became law last year. He has sponsored a clean oceans bill with Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. And tackling the opioid epidemic – that’s another of Sullivan’s goals that’s almost universally shared.U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, in his Washington, D.C. office. Photo: Liz RuskinSullivan is also keen on infrastructure, certainly for rural Alaska. “Getting fully funded the water and sewer issues, particularly communities that don’t have clean water and sewer,” he said. “American communities. I find it outrageous.”As for a national infrastructure bill, Sullivan wants to link it to permitting reform so projects don’t take decades to get started.“If there’s not a big permitting reform element I’m going to have a hard time voting for any amount of federal funding (for an infrastructure bill) because I think it’ll be a waste of money,” he said.He said permitting reform is a bipartisan goal, too, because Democrats don’t like long project delays, either.“When I talk to my Democratic colleagues all of them recognize this is a problem. They want to fix it,” he said. But many Democrats hear “permitting reform” and think it means undermining environmental protections. Here’s what Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell said about permitting reform:“I think the administration is running over a lot of clean air and clean water issues, and I don’t think that’s something we need to be doing,” she said.Sullivan said his pitch is that they can can speed permitting without cutting corners.Whether Democrats will help Republicans achieve their goals, and whether Republicans can craft bills that will win over at least nine Democrats, remains to be seen.last_img

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