- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Senate Democrats yesterday agreed to allow a vote to end the estate tax permanently in exchange for enough Republican votes to finish the energy bill.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle agreed to a vote on the tax bill before June 28, and the Senate voted 86-13 to limit debate and amendments on the energy bill with a final vote set for tomorrow.
"There is so much work yet to be done. And I think it's fair to say that neither side is completely satisfied with this legislation," said Mr. Daschle, citing Republican failure last week to win language allowing limited oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"We're at a point where we've made a tremendous investment in time now nine weeks on this legislation. We have not come as far as many of us would like, probably on either side, in coming to a conclusion that we all feel enthusiastic about," the South Dakota Democrat said.
The Senate leader tried to avoid the procedural vote and sought a unanimous agreement from the entire body, but his effort was blocked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who opposed language that encouraged the use of ethanol, a fuel additive that would increase gas prices.
The provision promoting the corn-based additive is backed by Mr. Daschle, whose home state is a major corn producer and would benefit from increased ethanol production.
Mr. Daschle said his fellow Democrat's claims were "dead wrong," and that gasoline would increase in price by only one penny per gallon.
The vote on eliminating the estate tax became part of the package at the insistence of Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican. The energy deal also includes $14 billion in energy tax incentives for oil and gas production and for conservation.
"What we are simply trying to do is find a way at long last to bring this bill to closure," said Mr. Daschle, who reminded his colleagues that the bill was brought to the Senate floor on Feb. 15.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott called the deal a bipartisan effort and thanked Mr. Daschle.
"I appreciate the work that we've been able to do together to try to get a reasonable agreement as to how to proceed on the death-tax matter," the Mississippi Republican said.
"I think that the agreement we just entered into is fair to all sides. I also think that's the right thing to do," Mr. Lott said.
Mr. Gramm and Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, threatened to attach the estate-tax elimination to every piece of legislation moving through the Senate. The House voted last week by a wide margin to make permanent all the tax cuts passed by Congress last year.
One option Republicans considered was to block the procedural vote, force Mr. Daschle to pull the hopelessly deadlocked energy bill from the floor and use it as a campaign issue. However, last-minute lobbying efforts by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Republicans leaders armed with the Daschle deal pulled the needed votes to keep the energy bill moving.
Mr. Daschle said he hopes the legislation can be completed in a conference committee between the House and Senate, yet Republicans already have a strategy for the final talks.
House Republicans will take the lead on the final negotiations, and are threatening to hold the normally closed meetings open to the media, at a date to be determined by the expected increase in fuel prices this summer.
Republicans hope that strategy will give them one final chance to add oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
One Republican aide said four types of gasoline will be available this summer, "regular, midgrade, premium and high-priced Daschle gas."

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