- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Democrat-led House yesterday passed a $16 billion tax increase on the oil industry to pay for renewable energy and conservation incentives ignoring the White House’s charge that it will raise gas prices and reliance on foreign oil.

It then gave President Bush a victory by temporarily expanding the administration’s eavesdropping authority on foreign terror suspects last night before taking up the Pentagon’s 2008 budget plan, which Democrats said they would not use to try to alter Iraq war policy.

The push toward the summer recess ends months of partisan discord and gives legislators 28 days to recharge for renewed battles over a trio of issues that have hamstrung Congress since Democrats took control in January: the Iraq war, immigration reform and spending.

Democrats said the energy package is a step toward weaning the nation off fossil fuels and their emissions, which many scientists blame for global warming. They also say the proposal will create jobs in the growing renewable energy industry.

“Energy independence is a national security issue, an environmental and health issue, an economic issue and a moral issue,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “We must strengthen our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

The two bills in the package offer tax credits and incentives for research, development and production of clean energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, as well as biofuels and hydroelectric power. It rolls back about $16 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry to finance these incentives.

Republicans said the bills do nothing to increase the production of domestic oil and coal and will lead to higher energy prices.

“The U.S. has been the world’s No. 1 industrial economy since just after the Civil War, we did so by using our coal, our oil, our natural gas and our brains to create and use more energy to amplify human strength to do more things than any of our competitors on earth,” said Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican. “Our competitors in the world would like us to rest.”

The Bush administration has threatened to veto the package, which it says is not a serious attempt to increase energy security or address high energy costs.

Unlike an energy bill passed this summer in the Senate, the House bills don’t include measures to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and to increase the use of corn-based ethanol as a substitute for gasoline.

The Senate version calls for cars and trucks to reach energy efficiency levels of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

The differences will be hammered out when the bills are merged.

The House’s “energy independence” bill passed yesterday by a vote of 241-172, with 26 Republicans supporting the measure and nine Democrats voting no.

The oil tax bill was approved by a vote of 221-189, with nine Republicans voting yes and 11 Democrats voting against the measure.

Later last night, the House, heeding Mr. Bush’s call for action, voted 227-183 to override a court ban on secretly listening without a warrant on the communications of overseas terror suspects routed through U.S. telecommunications networks.

Democrats in both chambers, who said they wanted to ensure the rights of Americans weren’t trampled, failed to add stricter rules, such as requiring pre-surveillance permission from the special court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“We think it is not the bill that ought to pass,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

But faced with the prospect of being questioned at home over obstructing efforts to battle terrorists, 41 Democrats joined Republicans to pass the measure. Two Republicans opposed it.

The Bush administration said Democratic proposals would have impeded quick action needed to battle technically savvy terrorists and had called on Congress to pass his version before going on recess.

“After months of prodding by House Republicans, Congress has finally closed the terrorist loophole in our surveillance law — and America will be the safer for it,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

The Senate agreed late Friday to the plan created by the White House. It gives the revised authority for six months, when lawmakers will review the policy. FISA already mandates court review of government surveillance of terrorist suspects in the U.S. and requires a warrant when an American citizen is involved.

After the FISA vote, the House began consideration of the $459.6 billion defense authorization bill late last night.

The massive defense measure represents a nearly $40 billion increase over current levels but does not include 2008 funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democrats say they want to consider that money in separate legislation next month, setting the stage for a major clash over the Iraq war. Democrats, who have failed repeatedly to legislatively alter Mr. Bush’s war policy, have vowed to keep trying.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, a point man on military matters for Democrats, told reporters last week that he backs only short-term extensions of war spending. He prepared amendments to close the prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and require troops to be fully trained and equipped before deployment in Iraq. But, facing the prospect of losing votes and inflaming partisan tensions, he didn’t offer them.

Mr. Bush has criticized the Pentagon bill — $3.5 billion less than his request — for not spending more on troop readiness and personnel accounts, but he has not threatened to veto the measure.

It provides $2.2 billion to cover a 3.5 percent pay raise for service members. The administration objects and says its recommended 3 percent pay increase is sufficient.

On one of the most contentious and heavily lobbied issues in the energy bill, the House voted to require investor-owned electric utilities nationwide to generate at least 15 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources, such as wind or biofuels, by 2020.

The utilities and business interests argued aggressively against the federal renewables mandate, saying it would raise electricity prices in regions of the country that do not have abundant wind energy. Environmentalists argued that the requirement would spur investments in renewable fuels and help address global warming as utilities use less coal.

The bill also calls for more stringent energy efficiency standards for appliances and lighting and incentives for building more energy-efficient “green” buildings. It would authorize special bonds for localities to reduce energy demand.

c This story is based in part on wire service reports.