Published November 21, 2003
WASHINGTON – Senate Republican leaders were stymied Friday when they fell two votes short of reaching the number needed to end debate and go for final passage of a much-anticipated energy bill.
"This bill was going nowhere, we just did it quickly rather than prolong it... It is inevitable, this bill is history," said Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (search), D-Nev.
But Majority Leader Bill Frist (search), R-Tenn., vowed to persist. "This will not be the last vote on this bill," he said. "We're going to keep voting until we pass it and get it to the president."
On a 57-40 vote, supporters failed to cut off debate. They needed 60 votes under the Senate's rules to close debate on the bill and move on to a final vote. Because of parliamentary rules, Frist voted against ending debate so that he can move to reconsider the bill without having to wait a day to take another vote on cloture.
Six Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the cloture vote.
With an omnibus spending bill still unfinished, Frist may be able to win over the last two votes Republicans need to pass the bill by horse-trading on some issues in those bills.
The House passed the $31 billion package earlier this week. The plan calls for about $25 billion in tax incentives for energy producers. Supporters said the bill would increase and diversify energy production and by 2012 double ethanol use, a major economic boost for farmers whose corn is used to make ethanol.
Opponents said the bill gives too much away to traditional industries like coal, gas and oil and created a "retroactive liability protection" for MTBE producers. MTBE (search) is a gasoline additive that has been shown to cause water pollution. Several cities have had to pay for costly cleanups as a result.
The bill would ban MTBE by 2015 but make available $1 billion to MTBE producers to convert to other businesses. Five of the GOP senators who voted against ending debate represent New England, where MTBE contamination of water supplies has been a major concern.
"The Senate's failure this morning to break the filibuster was as unnecessary as it is unfortunate. It is a classic example of insisting on provisions that were simply too much for traffic to bear," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search), D-S.D.
Daschle, who supports the bill and voted for ending debate, also blamed Republicans for failing to include Sen. Jeff Bingaman (search), D-N.M., ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in the final negotiations.
Approval of an energy bill has been a top priority for President Bush, who repeatedly called on Congress to finish the legislation this year. Vice President Dick Cheney also began calling GOP senators urging them not to abandon the president on the issue and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, a former senator from Michigan, were dispatched to Capitol Hill in the hours before the voting.
The bill, which would represent the first overhaul of energy legislation in a decade, contains hundreds of items sought by energy lobbyists, including tax breaks for oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries, plus tax credits for renewable energy and conservation.
Among its major provisions:
--Tax breaks of $13 billion for oil, gas and coal industries, and $5.5 billion for renewable energy sources -- wind, solar and biomass.
--Mandatory reliability requirements for high-voltage power lines and incentives to spur power line production.
--A requirement to double ethanol production for gasoline to 5 billion gallons a year by 2012.
--Authority and financial help, including $18 billion in loan guarantees, to build a pipeline to bring natural gas from Alaska's North Slope.
--Tax incentives for improving energy efficiency of homes and appliances, including a tax credit for buying hybrid gas-electric cars.
--A requirement to speed up permits and ease some environmental rules to promote energy development on public lands.
--A 10-year, $1 billion program to deal with "coastal erosion" for six states with offshore oil and gas production. Louisiana would get more than half of the money.
Fox News' Molly Hooper and the Associated Press contributed to this report.