As the budget deficit becomes a top concern of Republicans on Capitol Hill, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) signaled Monday that he plans to significantly scale back the cost of the $31 million omnibus energy bill and send a leaner measure to the Senate floor later this month.

“The budget the president sent to the Hill [Monday] is a tough one, but it reflects economic realities. It is necessary, in light of current deficit numbers, to trim spending [in] every way we can,” he said.

Calling it a “simple, straightforward process,” Domenici noted he planned to prune the costs of the energy measure “while keeping its core provisions intact.”

The chairman does have the support of top House Republicans for a pared-down bill, according to Domenici spokeswoman Marnie Funk. He met with key House energy lawmakers and the leadership at the GOP retreat in Philadelphia last Friday to discuss the issue, she noted. “He recognizes that he needs the support of the House.”

The conference report on the comprehensive energy bill (HR 6) cleared the House last November, but the measure lost steam in the Senate when Republicans fell shy of the votes needed to bring the bill to the floor. If the bill is changed markedly in the Senate, the House would have to vote on the measure again.

At the GOP retreat, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) said he planned to look for ways to attach parts of the energy bill, notably the ethanol mandate, to the six-year transportation reauthorization package (S 1072) that will be on the Senate floor this week, according to a report in the Congressional Green Sheets.

Many in Washington, DC, are pessimistic about the prospects for a comprehensive energy bill this year. They believe the broad measure subsequently will be severed into pieces and tacked onto other legislative vehicles moving through Congress during this session.

But Domenici said he remains committed to pushing a comprehensive energy bill through the Senate. “No single provision in this bill solves our energy challenges. We need a comprehensive approach that helps us conserve energy, increase production and diversify our fuel supplies. Anything less falls far short of the national energy policy [that] this country urgently needs.”

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