While some Republicans continued to voice their opposition to the closed-door talks on the House and Senate energy bills, House leaders said a conference report reconciling the two measures could be completed by as early as mid-November, according to committee aides.

Senate and House energy committee staffers have been meeting informally to combine the two bills (HR 3221, HR 6) since mid-September. The meetings are “much more intensive” than they were a few weeks ago, and staffers “are actually drafting recommendations for their bosses,” said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

But he noted that there is a “fair amount of work that still needs to be done” before the two bills, which total 1,500 pages, can be reconciled. The Senate is “hopeful” that a conference report will be issued, but unlike the House, it has not set a deadline, Wicker said.

Key Senate Republicans, such as Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn of Texas, who oppose certain provisions in the legislation, have prevented the House and Senate energy bills from going to a formal conference.

In the Senate Monday, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) again called for a formal conference on the energy bills. “We cannot simply marry these two bills in the dark of night.”

The House measure would impose a $16 billion tax increase on domestic oil and natural gas. “This is a conservative estimate, and I fear one that will increase behind closed doors,” said Domenici, the ranking Republican on the Senate energy panel.

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