Top Republican negotiators on the broad energy bill, Sen Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Rep. W.J. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, said Friday that a deal was struck on disputed issues in the tax package that allows them to make the text of the bill public on Saturday, and sets the stage for the measure to possibly clear both houses before lawmakers adjourn for the session this week.
If the House and Senate keep to the timetable spelled out by Domenici and get an energy bill to President Bush, it would be the first major overhaul of the nation’s energy policy in a decade.
In a press briefing on Capitol Hill Friday, Domenici said the Republican-crafted energy bill would be posted to the House and Senate energy committees’ web sites before noon on Saturday to give Democrats 48 hours to review it before a conference committee meeting on Monday. He said the conference session “will run into the night if necessary.”
For many Democrats, this will be their first glance at the policy and tax decisions in the bill. They have been virtually shut out of the conference negotiations since they began in early September.
“I think we’re [Democrats] being asked to take or leave it,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, a conferee and ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in a separate briefing with reporters. But he conceded “there’s more good in it [the bill] than bad.”
If the measure emerges from conference Monday, conceivably the House could vote on the energy bill Tuesday and send it to the Senate Wednesday, Domenici said. While the House is expected to approve the bill in a day, most observers agree that it will take the Senate longer. The threat of a filibuster is very real in the Senate.
The agreement on the tax package Friday was reported to be “general” in nature, a Capitol Hill aide said, adding there were a few small items that still weren’t quite resolved — production tax credits for nuclear energy and the so-call green bonds issue. Pressure reportedly was being applied for the House and Senate tax writers to wrap up the issues. The GOP negotiators did not give a dollar estimate for the tax package.
Domenici said he was “extremely hopeful” that Democrats who are opposed to certain items would not “unduly delay” the bill. “It deserves a vote,” although he conceded there are a few provisions in it that might spark a Senate filibuster. “You can’t predict the Senate; the current feeling is once they get a look at it there will be strong surge to get it done.”
Neither drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge nor price supports for Alaska gas to support construction of long-line Alaska pipeline were included in the bill. “ANWR is not in bill;” if it were, “everything we worked on would be dead,” Domenici said. It does, however, include loan guarantees and an accelerated depreciation schedule for the pipeline, according to Bingaman. Alaska producer ConocoPhillips has threatened to withdraw its support and resources for the Alaska pipeline if the price guarantees were not in the legislation.
Asked if he might be more prone to pass the bill with ANWR absent from it, Bingaman said, it’s “hard to pass a 1,700-page bill and justify it on what’s not in it.”
Domenici said the bill included a “total reform of the electricity laws of the country,” aimed at minimizing or avoiding blackouts. Saying it was “almost incredible how much dependent the country has become on natural gas,” he said the bill called for incentives to promote clean coal technology and nuclear power to diversify the fuel mix.
Tauzin called the package a jobs bill, claiming construction of the Alaska pipeline would put more than 400,000 people to work. The bill also would start “weaning us off the sole dependence on natural gas.” Customers should not have to face gas price spikes this winter, he said.
Bingaman said Democrats would be eager to see if the concerns they raised were addressed in the bill and if anything new was added. So far much of the draft has been made public, but not the electricity title or the tax package. Bingaman said he doesn’t know if the Democrats will be able to amend the draft in committee.
Referring to the comments in the joint Domenici-Tauzin press briefing, Bingaman said they “seemed to me to be [very] general and very ethereal,” and “short on specifics.”
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