Quin Hillyer: Scalise advances with energy

There’s a later column begging to be written about how Louisiana’s U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, has quietly become one of the most influential members of the entire House of Representatives. What’s of immediate interest, though, is how that status subtly puts Louisiana interests high on the congressional agenda.

Scalise chairs the Republican Study Committee, a mammoth, 175-member caucus designed to keep the House GOP firmly conservative in policy and strategy. On March 26, the RSC released a bill called the “Jumpstarting Opportunities with Bold Solutions” Act (note the acronym: JOBS), expressly aimed at “growing the economy — not the government.”

The result of a monthslong process by an eight-member working group chaired by Scalise, the bill is in many ways a compendium of familiar (even if too little credited) Republican proposals to create, yes, jobs — via creative and effective regulatory relief, limits on the power of union bosses in favor of individual workers and aggressive production of fossil-fuel resources.

It is the latter subject that benefits from Scalise’s Louisiana roots. Energy clearly takes precedence in the package, with seven of the 15 bullet-pointed proposals on the group’s Web page devoted to fuel-related subjects.

They include well-known provisions to approve the Keystone pipeline and repeal the ban on energy production in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, as well as less nationally prominent items such as approving all pending export applications for liquefied natural gas.

Considering the 11 LNG projects, worth what some estimate as a $42 billion economic investment, already in the works in Louisiana, this last item obviously would be a huge boon for the Bayou State.

One provision not highlighted on the website, but which Scalise is quick to note as part of the bill’s energy reforms, would require the federal government immediately to fully share offshore energy revenue with states whose waters host the drilling, rather than waiting to fully share until 2016 as provided by current law. The provision could mean tens of millions of additional dollars for Louisiana state coffers, as well as for other coastal states.

“Energy obviously has been a very strong Republican issue for years, one on which a lot of members are passionate,” Scalise said.

“So it’s not like this is just a Louisiana thing. Look at North Dakota — it now has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, and it’s all because of new energy development there. Former Congressman Rick Berg just texted me the other day that workers there are in such demand, even McDonald’s is paying $18 an hour to entry-level employees.”

Scalise continued: “But, yes, with my Louisiana background, and with me serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee, obviously my platform as chairman of the largest caucus in Congress allows me a louder voice when pushing policies like these that also benefit Louisiana.”

With this legislation, along with a plan released earlier to not just repeal Obamacare but to replace it with free-market health care solutions, Scalise and the RSC are at the forefront of efforts to convince the GOP House leadership not just to campaign against Obamacare but for a positive, reformist agenda. He said he feels confident the leadership will allow the JOBS Act to reach the House floor before this year’s August recess.

Scalise didn’t “game this out” any further for me, but I will. One would think that even if it passes the House, this bill would have no chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But in an election year in which so many Democrat-held Senate seats in otherwise conservative states are at serious risk, almost anything could happen. Scalise’s timing, therefore, might be particularly effective by raising the profile of these energy provisions just when pressure on Senate Democrats to accept them might be unusually strong.

“If you want to talk actual policy that will create almost immediate jobs, energy policy is probably the quickest way to do that,” Scalise said.

I’ve tracked Scalise’s career ever since he was speaker of LSU’s student assembly in 1989, and I wouldn’t be surprised to pull such a legislative rabbit from his hat. He’s industrious, persistent and easy to work with. Those are the skills that get good legislation passed.

New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is qhillyer @theadvocate.com.