Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-NM) postponed a conference committee vote on the proposed energy bill, which tentatively had been set for Oct. 3, until after the Senate returns from its recess in mid-October. This could push back Senate and House votes on the energy bill to November.

At the same time, key Democratic negotiators on the energy bill complained last week that Republican House-Senate conferees have virtually shut them out of the conference process, but they stopped short of saying they intended to filibuster the bill. Conference Chairman Domenici countered that the energy negotiations have been “the most open…of any conference I have participated in.”

In announcing the delay, Domenici said the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee had notified him that they would not be able to complete their negotiations on the tax title of the bill in time for a Friday conference vote. “This package is critical to our overall national energy policy,” he noted.

The two committees are trying to reconcile the Senate energy measure, which proposes a total of $15 billion in energy tax relief over nine years, with the House bill that would provide $18 billion in tax cuts over a 10-year period. The work on the tax title reportedly still is in the beginning stages.

“In order to accommodate the tax-writing committees, we will reschedule an energy conference meeting for the third week of October,” according to Domenici.

House-Senate negotiators also reportedly hit some bumps on the electricity and ethanol provisions of the energy legislation last week. However, Domenici insisted House-Senate negotiators were “very close to final deals on ethanol, electricity and the [incentives for an] Alaska natural gas pipeline,” and in fact “were on track to finish those negotiations” in time for a Friday conference vote.

Domenici and Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-LA), manager of energy negotiations on the House side, released last Monday a second “discussion” draft of all of the titles that Republicans had negotiated so far, including the Alaska gas pipeline, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) energy development, automobile efficiency, clean coal technology, Department of Energy (DOE) management, energy efficiency, hydroelectricity, hydrogen, Indian energy, nuclear, oil and gas, geothermal, renewable energy and vehicles and fuels.

The second “discussion draft” reflected changes — some substantive, but mostly minor — recommended by both Republican and Democratic conferees to the original Republican drafts of the energy bill, which were released over the past few weeks. As much as half of the revisions came from the Democrats, said Marnie Funk, a Republican spokeswoman for the Senate Energy Committee. The second discussion draft can be viewed on

“We’re not very hopeful or optimistic that they’re going to make wholesale changes” to the initial GOP drafts, said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for the Democratic members of the Senate Energy Committee, just prior to the release of the second discussion draft.

The latest discussion draft did not include ethanol, electricity or the tax provisions. Domenici and Tauzin have not indicated yet when these provisions will be released.

“There’s all kinds of meetings going on on Capitol Hill” between House and Senate Republicans and with Democrats with respect to these issues, Wicker said last week. “This is where people really get serious about these things because there’s no second chance” to amend the conference report after it’s sent to the House and Senate for a vote.

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