- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

Senate Republicans abandoned their stalled energy bill yesterday, scuttling months of arduous political labor, and agreed to substitute the energy bill written by Democrats last year when they controlled the chamber.

The extraordinary political maneuver, brought on by days of delaying tactics each party blamed on the other, ensures an energy bill will get to conference with the House, which passed its version in April.

The Senate passed its bill by a 84-14 vote, and both sides claimed victory.

“They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse — the Democratic energy bill we passed last year,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

“We’d much rather go into conference with a Democratic vehicle than what was going to pass at the end of this debate as the Republican bill,” Mr. Daschle said. “In our fondest dreams, we never thought we’d be able to pass a Democratic bill in a Republican Congress.”

But Republicans said what passed yesterday is irrelevant because they control the Senate and House, and thus will control the House-Senate conference to hammer out a compromise bill.

“The reason I’m happy is because I’ll be rewriting that bill,” said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “We’ll write a substantially different bill.”

Mr. Domenici said Democrats realized they were better off ending the fuss and adopting last year’s bill, which passed then by a 88-11 vote, because they accepted that the conference will write the final bill. He also pointed out that Republicans had won every vote on the bill this year.

The White House supports the maneuver, Senate sources say.

Energy industry lobbyists also were pleased.

“I’m sure that after initial concerns, Republicans are jumping for joy,” Frank Maisano, energy consultant at Bracewell & Patterson, said yesterday afternoon after the deal was struck. “This could ignite a scenario where Republicans craft a conference report that is favorable, but not overtly partisan.”

Democrats said they still could filibuster the legislation reconciled in conference.

A filibuster, however, would kill the energy bill’s corn-based ethanol subsidies, an issue embraced by Democrats from Midwestern farm states. Mr. Daschle is already running campaign ads in his home state praising the ethanol provision.

A House Republican aide lauded the development, saying many in the House had begun to lose faith that the Senate could produce a bill this year.

Mr. Domenici was also among the doubters, complaining during the past couple of days that the complex bill he worked so hard to advance was being sidetracked by votes on judges called for by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and the slow pace of Democrats who wished to offer amendments.

“Domenici is not happy with how Frist has handled this the last couple days,” a senior Republican Senate aide said yesterday afternoon. “A lot of people are not happy about how Frist has handled this.”

Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was pleased to have a bill to hammer out in conference, even if it was written by Democrats.

“I’d much prefer to see the Republican bill than the bill we saw last year,” Mr. Tauzin said. “But obviously if that’s the best the Senate can do, at least we can get it to conference. We’re running out of time.”

Democrats said last year’s bill has stronger environmental protections than the bill that was pending, including some provisions on global warming.

Democrats also secured an agreement to revisit climate change later this year in a stand-alone bill that would impose curbs on industrial carbon output.

Last year’s bill does not contain hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies for the nuclear industry, an issue important to Mr. Domenici. But it also does not include many of the consumer protection measures Democrats want in the electricity industry.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.


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