A number of leading mainstream newspapers across the nation, both conservative and liberal, have come out in opposition to the Republican-crafted omnibus energy bill, calling it a mishmash of tax breaks and subsidies for special interest groups rather than a serious stab at bolstering energy supplies and infrastructure. They urged the Senate to filibuster the measure and go back to the drawing board.

The conservative Wall Street Journal wrote this about the bill: “It’s certainly comprehensive. It may not have all that much to do with energy any more, but it does give something to every last elected Representative. What began three years ago as a serious White House study of America’s growing energy needs has emerged as one of the great logrolling exercises in recent Congressional history — which is saying something. The GOP leadership has greased more wheels than a Nascar pit crew.” The Democrats “are along for the ride” as well, “especially Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle” of South Dakota. “We realize that making legislation is never pretty, but this exercise is uglier than most.” It called the bill a “1,700-page monstrosity.”

The New York Times wrote that one can only hope there’s enough support to “sustain a filibuster and launch this dreadful bill into the legislative netherworld where it belongs. At this point, Congress can start again and give the country an energy strategy worthy of the problems it faces, oil dependency being one, and global warming another.” The responsibility for “providing something better now falls to the Democratic leadership, in particular Tom Daschle.” But Daschle may be hard pressed to vote against the bill because of a provision doubling corn-based ethanol use in gasoline by 2012, which would be a boon to farmers in his state. “Though Mr. Daschle seems to regard their [farmers’] votes as essential to his political future, it is time for him to think on a grander scale.”

The Washington Post wrote: “While it’s amusing to watch members of the allegedly ‘free-market’ Republican Party arguing in favor of spending money to create jobs, it will be less funny if the [energy] bill passes. For that reason, we’re hoping that lawmakers of both parties will join together over the next few days and make sure the bill doesn’t become law.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorialized: “This bill is about as bad as it gets. When it comes up for a vote, members of Congress who remain committed to more rational energy policy for America and still believe in the dignity of the legislative body in which they serve shouldn’t hesitate to reject it.”

The Chicago Tribune observed: “A few initiatives are worthwhile, most look more like a laundry list of special-interest subsidies. Together, they don’t add up to a policy that will promote energy self-sufficiency or stable prices… Neither the contents nor the process for cobbling it together suggest this is the type of energy legislation the country needs.”

The Denver Post wrote: “The bill provides no real vision and represents no real improvement in policies and laws. It’s vexing that Congress didn’t seize an opportunity to improve the national energy picture. Congress should start over next year.”

The Houston Chronicle wrote: “The energy bill unshrouded [last weekend] by congressional Republicans is, at best, half a loaf that’s been dropped repeatedly in the dirt…Half a loaf usually is better than none, but not if it’s half-baked. This one could use at least a few more days in the oven to correct the most obvious flaws.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote: “The draft of a national energy bill finally approved and released by Congressional Republicans…is said to be about 1,150 pages long. The Old Testament is only slightly longer and is a lot more readable — even the ‘begats’ parts — but no one would be expected to read it with comprehension in less than a week. And yet that’s exactly what the bill’s supporters expect of their colleagues and the public as they seek passage of the measure before the Thanksgiving recess… We’re not sure it’s the turkey of a bill that critics say it is…but we do think the public deserves more time to digest this massive bill.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized: “What most Americans were looking for was an energy bill that protected their interests as consumers, citizens and potential victims of pollution. Instead, they got this unbalanced, shameful mess.”

A number of Democratic critics of the energy bill, as well as a couple of Republicans, quoted the editorials during the first day of debate on energy legislation in the Senate Wednesday. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), the chief architect of the bill, responded by citing favorable letters from industry associations backing the GOP-crafted measure.

It was unclear whether Senate Democrats intend to filibuster the legislation, which they claim is steeped in pork-barrel tax breaks and subsidies and short on needed policy changes. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who on Wednesday called the bill “the worst legislation that I have seen in my 20 years [in Congress],” said he was close to getting the 41 votes needed to carry out a filibuster.

In addition to the Senate Democrat opponents, six moderate Republicans publicly have said they will join a filibuster movement to block the measure. The senators include John McCain (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Judd Gregg (R-NH), John Sununu (R-NH), Olympia Snow (R-ME) and John Chafee (R-RI). A couple of other GOP senators have indicated privately that they will vote against the bill as well, a Democratic committee aide said.

If these six Republicans align themselves with Democrats, Senate Republican proponents of the bill will need to garner the support of at least 15 Senate Democrats to end a filibuster, which requires a total of 60 votes.

“All of our sources agree — the vote count is quite close” for energy bill opponents in the Senate to launch and sustain a filibuster, said energy analyst Christine Tezak of Charles Swab Capital Markets. Votes “appear to be hovering in the high thirties (41 votes are needed to…make the filibuster threat real),” she noted.

“So a couple of senators changing sides is still a tantalizing enough prospect to keep the filibuster threat alive.” However, “we still think the odds favor the bill getting passed by the Senate,” Tezak said. If the filibuster effort fizzles, a vote on the legislation probably would come at the end of the week, the committee aide noted.

David Parker, CEO of the American Gas Association, agreed with Tezak’s optimistic forecast for the bill. He believes Schumer will “lead the effort on the energy bill filibuster,” but “by 3 p.m. this Saturday, the Senate will pass a conference report and have it on the president’s desk by Thanksgiving.”

On the Senate floor Wednesday, McCain attacked the energy legislation, saying the $23 billion tax package in the bill was “loaded with wasteful pork-barrel projects.” Instead of being called “The Energy Policy Act of 2003,” he said it should be referred to as the “Leave No Lobbyist Behind Act of 2003.”

If the bill should clear the Senate before Thanksgiving, the American public will be presented with an “enormous turkey stuffed with their tax dollars,” McCain said.

Gregg said he had “serious concerns” about the GOP measure, which he called a “grab bag of special interest projects.” For example, Gregg noted it proposes to build a “green shopping center” in Louisiana, the home state of Rep. W.J. “Billy Tauzin who was the chief House negotiator on the legislation. “I wonder how that got into [the bill].”

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