- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

For the last few years oil magnate T. Boone Pickens has had one chief goal: to get the government to push natural gas, particularly onto the country’s fleet of commercial trucks.

On Tuesday, his plan to offer government subsidies came before the Senate and went down to defeat, falling nine votes shy of the 60 needed to pass major legislation in the upper chamber.

It was one of a flurry of proposals the Senate killed in a cantankerous afternoon that saw lawmakers vote against extending more than three dozen tax breaks for businesses, vote against ending still other tax breaks for both oil and alternative energy companies, and turn back another attempt to force the Obama administration to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

The votes all came as the Senate tried to work through its transportation bill, which would renew the government’s massive highway-building program for another two years.

Final action is expected Wednesday, after senators banded together to defeat every major change proposed by Republicans and Democrats.

After the defeat, Mr. Pickens said he still sees hope for his plan.

“This legislation is a national priority. The question isn’t if it gets passed, it’s when. America has waited long enough for Washington to deliver on its promise to address the OPEC oil dependency problem,” he said in a statement.

Energy analysts said the 51-47 vote - nine shy of the 60 needed to pass - is probably a high-water mark for the plan.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House, where Rep. John Sullivan, Oklahoma Republican, has 181 co-sponsors.

However, 20 other lawmakers who had previously signed up have withdrawn their names from the bill, signaling just how bitter the behind-the-scenes lobbying has been as free-market groups blasted the plan as an effort to pick winners and losers in the energy market.

Another key vote came on an amendment to extend 39 tax breaks ranging from aid to employers who hire veterans to mine safety to energy efficient homes. The amendment also would have opened up drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and permitted construction of the Keystone pipeline, which Mr. Obama rejected earlier this year.

That measure only garnered 41 votes, with a coalition of moderate and conservative Republicans joining Democrats in voting against it.

In yet another vote the Senate refused to end tax breaks for both alternative fuels and oil.

Both Republicans and Democrats have called for streamlining the tax code by eliminating those kinds of special breaks, but when offered the chance there was little appetite in either party. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, won just 26 votes, all from Republicans.