House and Senate conferees neared agreement yesterday on a crude-oil tax that would raise $227 billion in the next 10 years.
After spending more than three hours in separate caucuses yesterday afternoon, the two groups said they had narrowed their differences over how to treat independent oil producers, the major remaining sticking point.
"We are not really far apart in terms of overall numbers," said Sen. Russell B. Long (D-La.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The House conferees are "very reluctant" to have a rate of more than 30 percent on newly discovered oil, while the Senate is concerned about how the independents are treated, Long said.
Bernard Shapiro, chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation, who spent the afternoon shuttling between the two groups, said each side appeared to be settling on a 72 percent tax rate for currently flowing oil, and a 30 percent rate for newly discovered oil, as well as 30 percent for so-called heavy oil that must be heated before it will flow and other oil that can be produced only with very expensive "tertiary" recovery methods.
The tax would be levied on the difference between the market price of the oil and a base price that for currently flowing oil would be about $12.80 a barrel.
Shapiro said the two groups also agreed that independents should not be exempt from the tax on any portion of their production, but should qualify for lower rates on the first 1,000 barrels of each day's output.
A rate of between 40 percent and 60 percent is the range under discussion for flowing oil except that from wells producing less than 10 barrels a day, known as stripper oil. Stripper oil would be taxed at a rate in the neighborhood of 35 percent, he said.
Independents would pay about $24 billion of the $227 billion total, Shapiro estimated.
The joint committee staff will produce a detailed version of the nearly complete compromise for the conferees to consider this morning at 10 o'clock.
Once the tax issue is settled, the conferees will take up billions of dollars worth of energy tax credits the Senate approved for a wide variety of energy expenditures. The Senate version of the bill also includes several billion dollars for payments to low-income families to help with heating bills during the next three years.