Senate Democrats and Republicans remained deadlocked Tuesday on separate bills dealing with alternative energy tax incentives and efforts to curb oil speculation. Republicans still object to the tax bill's offsets, while they are seeking additional amendments to the speculation bill to expand domestic production.
Another test vote on proceeding to the House-passed tax "extender" bill failed on a 53-43 vote Tuesday, similar to two previous outcomes. Another vote is expected this morning, this time to move directly to a revamped bill introduced last week by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus that contains new provisions such as mental health parity language.
Senate Majority Leader Reid said if Republicans continue to filibuster the tax bill, he will not agree to any deal on amendments to the oil speculation bill that has been stalled for about a week. Reid and Baucus cited the tax bill's provisions aimed at spurring development of wind and solar energy projects, which have stalled because of the uncertainty surrounding government backing.
"The choice is theirs," Reid said. "I'm happy to work with the Republicans on the speculation bill. But before we do the speculation bill, we're going to have to get the tax extenders done, because that's something that is meaningful today."
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said the Senate needs to deal with supply issues as well as speculation before moving off the energy bill.
"The way you deal with $4 [a gallon] gasoline is you stay on Sen. Reid's $4 gasoline bill," Alexander said. "And it's a very simple matter in the Senate to say, 'All right, the subject is energy; Republicans you offer some amendments; Democrats you offer some; we'll vote and we'll construct a bill.' That's what we'd like to do and we could have been doing that for the last 10 days."
On Monday, Reid offered Republicans the chance to have four amendments to the speculation bill regarding offshore oil and gas drilling; oil shale production; nuclear energy, and a broader GOP package containing these and other issues. All would have to earn 60 votes to pass.
Republicans say they want more than four, do not want the amendments dictated to them and if those requirements are not met, at a minimum do not want all four amendments having 60-vote thresholds.
"I've said that we're happy to deal with them on other amendments," Reid said, but he added he wanted some prior assurances. "I'm not going to be rushing off into no man's land unless I have some knowledge of what we're going to do before we leave here." Reid said he spoke with Minority Leader McConnell Tuesday morning. "I believe that Sen. McConnell's acting in good faith, saying that he wants to try to work something out on the extenders and on the speculation bill," Reid said.
If cloture is invoked on the new Baucus tax bill today, Reid indicated he would likely limit amendments on that measure. "[Republicans have] had the opportunity to look at it. The extenders package isn't something we're going to have a long debate. ...We're scheduled to be out of here on Friday. So I don't think there's going to be a lot of amendments on much of anything."
Republicans have threatened to try to keep senators from going home for the August recess if they do not get votes on their plans to expand oil and gas drilling in federal waters and in the West, and other items. Reid said he plans to just keep the Senate in a pro-forma session, which Democrats have done to keep President Bush from issuing recess appointments.
"We don't need the Republicans' permission to adjourn," Reid said. "If they think that it's going to hurt us in any way, I'm not concerned at all, because it won't hurt us one bit."
Baucus said that the tax vote Tuesday was a "good-faith" effort to address GOP criticism that moving directly to a Senate-originated revenue bill would run afoul of the constitutional requirement that revenue bills start in the House. He noted that the Senate bill nonetheless could be substituted for a House-passed vehicle before final passage.
Baucus said Republicans face considerable pressure to vote for the bill today, even if he wasn't quite ready to declare Democrats had met the 60-vote threshold.
He blamed Republican leaders from keeping rank-and-file colleagues from supporting the extenders package.
"They support it, it's just that the leadership on the other side tells their members not to vote for it," Baucus said. "I've got a lot of senators that don't have problems with provisions in the bill; they don't have problems with offsets."
The measure continues to pick up support from the business community, including letters sent to Senate leaders Tuesday from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and from a smaller group of financial services and manufacturing firms. SIFMA and the individual companies back the proposed extension of a tax break for multinational corporations allowing them to defer taxes on so-called "active financing" income.
Despite the rhetoric, behind-the-scenes discussions were ongoing between Baucus and Finance ranking member Charles Grassley to find a compromise on the extender bill. Alexander said it was possible he could accept at least some partial offsets for the bill, but that he wanted to see what Grassley and Baucus came up with.
"It depends on the bill, when it comes up as a substitute matter, I'll deal with it. What I'm doing now is voting, as many Republicans are, to say we want to stay on $4 gasoline, and we don't know why the Democratic leader would want to move to anything else, when $4 gasoline is the most important issue facing the country," Alexander said.
This article appears in the August 2, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.