US Senate Democrats resist inclusion of energy items in economic bill

By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 1 -- US Senate Democratic leaders Thursday said they will resist efforts by oil state lawmakers to attach comprehensive energy legislation to a pending economic stimulus package.

Following a meeting with Committee on Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said in a brief interview there was "no" chance a wide ranging energy proposal would be attached to the bill.

Baucus told reporters he expects his committee to mark up the broad tax bill Nov. 6. The Senate bill is expected to be dramatically different than the House version.

Senate Democratic leaders say they want to avoid giving favorable tax treatment to specific sectors. Instead, they want to follow a White House proposal that would include accelerated income tax rate cuts, a 30% bonus on what companies can depreciate, and permanent suspension of the alternative minimum tax (AMT) most larger corporations pay.

The House last week passed a $100 billion economic stimulus package by a narrow 216-214 vote. That version includes a plan to extend through 2003 a key marginal well tax provision due to expire this year. But beyond that small provision, there is little in the bill that is energy-specific.

Nevertheless, the House bill does help multinational oil companies because it advocates sweeping tax relief for large corporations. It would allow companies that pay the AMT to claim a credit retroactively for 15 years (OGJ Online, Oct. 26, 2001).

Senate Republican leaders say a House energy bill passed in August should be added to the pending economic bill. The House bill, H.R. 4, includes a controversial plan to lease a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It also has much more generous tax treatment for domestic production. Provisions in the House energy plan include a tax credit to keep marginal wells in production, extending the net operating loss carryback to 5 years, and allowing companies to expense geological and geophysical costs.

A coalition of business and labor groups affirmed the Senate Republicans call.

"The events of the past month lend a new urgency to our efforts to increase domestic energy supplies and modernize our nation's energy infrastructure," said Bruce Josten, a spokesman for the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth. Josten is also executive vice-president for government affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce.

He said, "Our 1,000 members, including labor organizations, energy producers, and small business groups, call on the Senate to set aside partisanship and pass a comprehensive energy bill right now."

Efforts have stalled to work out differences between the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate on spending bills, energy policy, and national security plans.

Not knowing when Congress will adjourn for the year is part of the problem. Daschle told reporters Congress may stay in session until it finishes its work. Another option may be to recess for the holiday season, subject to recall by the leadership.

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