House Energy Package Votes Likely Delayed to Saturday

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 03 Aug 2007 17:16:00 GMT

From CQ:
Energy legislation remained in limbo Friday, stalled by tight vote counts, partisan squabbling and fresh veto threats from the White House. Floor consideration was likely to be delayed until Saturday — at best.

Democrats at midday were considering making changes to the energy tax package (HR 2776) to placate oil-state Democrats upset about treatment of the oil and gas industry.

There “may be some slight changes,” said John B. Larson, D-Conn., vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, after a meeting in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Larson would not elaborate on what the changes might be, but Democrats have been struggling to ensure that they can muster a majority vote in support of the energy package. They cannot count on support from many, if any, Republicans.

House Democratic leaders still insist the chamber will take up the energy tax bill and a broader energy measure (HR 3221) before it leaves for the month-long August recess. The Rules Committee was expected to draft a rule later Friday, with floor votes Saturday. But even that could prove optimistic.

Democratic aides said they expect a prolonged debate on a fiscal 2008 defense spending bill (HR 3222) that is set to go to the House floor ahead of the energy package. Republicans were threatening to use parliamentary delaying tactics on that bill.

“We didn’t get the rule for the energy package done yesterday. That means the earliest it could be taken up would be Saturday,’’ said a senior Democratic aide.

GOP members on the Rules Committee boycotted a meeting called for Friday morning on the energy bill rule and other pending legislation.

“We told the majority that we were not going to participate because of what happened last night,” said a Republican committee aide, referring to the vote-tallying floor fight over the agricultural appropriations bill.

The $16.1 billion energy tax package would raise taxes on the oil and gas industry and redirect the proceeds for tax breaks for renewable energy sources. The broader energy bill is intended to promote energy efficiency, new technologies and tighter regulation.

Taxes Targeted

In the latest veto threat, issued today, the White House echoed the concerns of oil-state Democrats and House Republicans about the measures.

“The combination of these two bills will result in less domestic oil and gas production, higher taxes to disadvantage a single targeted industry, and duplicative energy efficiency and R&D efforts that are largely underway already,” the White House said in its statement of administration policy on the two bills.

The tax package may be in more trouble than the broader bill, because of the potential defection of oil-state Democrats who are concerned about raising taxes on an industry that provides jobs in their districts. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to woo 36 members of their party who voted for a narrower energy bill (HR 6) in January.

Jim McCrery of Louisiana, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said this morning that he expected a substantial number of those 36 GOP members to vote against the tax package, though he still did not think he would have a majority. McCrery has proposed an alternate $5 billion package that would provide shorter extensions of many of the same tax credits that the main bill includes and exclude some of the more controversial tax increases on the energy industry.

The other potentially contentious issue is a requirement that could be added by amendment to the broader bill, which would require electric utilities to produce 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

A potential hurdle is opposition from Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., who is concerned that Southern states may not have sufficient wind power to meet the standard, unless agricultural waste and other sources are allowed.

Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., had initially proposed a standard of 20 percent by 2020, but he softened that to 15 percent earlier this week. His latest proposal would allow utilities to meet more than a quarter of the requirement through energy efficiency.

Udall insists that Democrats already have a majority of votes to adopt the amendment, suggesting that the current discussions are intended to build further support and ensure a strong vote on the underlying bill.