- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

Senate Democrats and northeastern Republicans joined together yesterday to block the Republicans’ massive energy bill, voting to filibuster a key part of President Bush’s domestic agenda.

In a 57-40 vote, the Senate failed by three votes to end a filibuster in a procedural vote. Sixty votes were needed to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote.

“This bill seemed to feel that pork was a substitute for policy,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who led the opposition to the $31 billion bill, which included $23 billion in tax breaks and incentives for new energy production.

Republican leaders vowed to force another vote before Congress finishes business this year, but opponents called that unrealistic and said the bill is probably finished for the year.

“It really doesn’t help the Senate to prolong the inevitable. The inevitable is [that] this bill is history. It is not going to go anyplace,” said Assistant Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The House passed the bill earlier this week, 246-180. Senate passage would have sent the bill to Mr. Bush, who has lobbied for the measure as part of his domestic and economic agenda. Returning yesterday from a visit to Britain, Mr. Bush scolded the filibusterers.

“This nation needs an energy bill. It needs an energy plan. A minority of senators are holding it up,” the president said. “For the sake of our national security and economic security, the Senate’s got to pass this bill.”

The tax breaks are directed mostly at producing and delivering more fossil fuels to markets, but include some money for the development of renewable energy. The bill also sets reliability standards for the nation’s energy grid to try to prevent blackouts like the ones that occurred in the Northeast this summer.

Opponents objected most to a provision, insisted on by House negotiators, that shields petrochemical companies from some lawsuits over methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), a fuel additive that has contaminated water supplies in hundreds of communities nationwide.

Other senators complained the bill’s tax breaks and incentives were misguided.

They particularly targeted the provisions requiring that ethanol be added to gasoline, a boon to states where corn farming is widespread.

“Ethanol is a product that would not exist if Congress didn’t create an artificial market for it,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Mr. McCain and five other Republicans — Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Judd Gregg and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island — joined 32 Democrats and one independent in the filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, also voted “no” in order to make himself eligible to demand a revote, which Republicans said will come before Congress adjourns.

“We are going to keep voting until we pass it and get it to the president’s desk,” Mr. Frist said.

Republicans believe there are four or five senators who voted against the measure yesterday but who could be persuaded to vote for it, if the right changes were made.

But opponents said they believe they will stand firm, and even if Republicans do sway some votes, there are other Republicans who didn’t support a filibuster but who would probably vote against the bill in subsequent votes on budgetary grounds.

Since the bill before the Senate is a final conference report and cannot be amended, any overtures to senators would have to be attached to another bill, most likely the omnibus spending measure still being negotiated.

During the process of writing the bill this year, both sides had to forgo provisions they had sought. Mr. Bush wasn’t able to find enough votes in the Senate to pass a provision allowing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while environmentalists couldn’t find enough votes in either the House or Senate to increase fuel efficiency standards.

Yesterday’s vote divided particularly along geographic lines, with Southern and farm-state Democrats supporting the bill and northeastern Republicans joining other Democrats in opposing it.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, said her state deserved to have the bill passed.

“There are a lot of Southerners who are generating a lot of electricity. Why? Because we’re drilling and we’re producing and we’re building plants in the South,” she said. “I’ll be darned if our ratepayers have to pick up the tab to ship that electricity to the Northeast.”

The division among Democrats was so stark that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, supported the bill as an economic boon for his state, while Mr. Reid, the assistant minority leader, actively worked to defeat the measure.


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