Senate Republicans Block Energy Bill

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007; 11:49 AM

By a narrow margin, the Senate today failed again to block a Republican-led filibuster on an energy bill as GOP leaders made a stand against a $21.8 billion, 10-year tax package that would have extended incentives for wind and solar energy and reduced some tax breaks for oil companies.

The vote stalled a bill that includes tougher fuel and appliance efficiency standards and a requirement for a massive increase in biofuels.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he would introduce another version of the energy bill, without the tax package, perhaps as soon as today. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the revised bill would get wide bipartisan support.

The bid to end debate failed even though Democratic presidential candidates -- Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Barack Obama (Ill.), Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) and Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) -- returned from the campaign trail to lend their support to the energy bill. They were scheduled to rush back to Iowa in time for a debate this afternoon.

The 59-40 vote -- one vote short of the margin needed to end debate and clear the way for a vote on the measure -- came after warnings from the White House and Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, that President Bush would veto the bill because of the tax component.

Nine Republicans voted in favor of ending debate and one Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), voted against it. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, was not present.

Before the vote, McConnell said that Democrats had "shown how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" by "inserting an enormous tax hike, a tax hike they knew would doom this legislation."

But Reid said Congress is an equal branch of government and should not be intimidated by the threat of a White House veto. "We are the Congress of the United States. We can write things even though the president may not like them," he said.

Democrats had argued that the tax measure, including $13.5 billion raised from the oil industry, was modest and simply took back tax breaks that oil companies had received only recently and did not need with oil prices around $90 a barrel.

"The future just failed by one vote. The past was preserved," Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said after the vote. "The oil companies are now celebrating in their boardrooms."

Republicans said that higher taxes on oil companies would not help lower prices for consumers.

Wind, solar groups and environmental groups expressed dismay at the vote. They said they had hoped that support would come from such GOP senators as Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), John W. Warner (R-Va.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), all of whom voted against closing debate.

"For the wind industry, it looks like coal in our Christmas stocking," said Gregory Wetstone, senior director for government and public affairs at the American Wind Energy Association.

The American Petroleum Institute issued a statement saying: "We applaud the Senate for recognizing the adverse effect that increased taxes would have had on future energy supplies." But API said it still opposes other provisions, including elements of the bill regarding biofuels.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company