Se­nate GOP sets stage for en­ergy de­bate

To con­sider Demo­cratic plan

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN AND SEAN LENGELL

Ea­ger for a de­bate they be­lieve will high­light ris­ing gas prices on Pres­i­dent Obama’s watch, Se­nate Repub­li­cans on Mon­day gave the green light to de­bat­ing Democrats’ plan to end tax sub­si­dies for oil and gas com­pa­nies.

The move was un­ex­pected. Democrats thought the GOP would block the mea­sure out­right — and Repub­li­cans said they can still do that later. But for now, they said the chance to talk about gas prices was too good.

“Frankly, I can’t think of a bet­ter way to il­lus­trate how com­pletely out of touch they are on this is­sue,” said Sen. Mitch Mccon­nell, the Repub­li­cans’ floor leader.

It’s the first ma­jor de­bate on oil this year, and it comes as prices con­sumers are pay­ing at the pump have leapt in re­cent weeks, with the na­tional av­er­age price ris­ing 23 cents in the past month, ac­cord­ing to GasBuddy.com.

Democrats, who con­trol the Se­nate, want to elim­i­nate the av­er­age $2.4 bil­lion a year in tax ben­e­fits that will be paid to the top oil com­pa­nies for the next decade.

“As we all pay more at the pump, Big Oil rakes in more money,” said Sen. Robert Me­nen­dez, New Jer­sey Demo­crat and spon­sor of the leg­is­la­tion.

Mon­day’s 92-4 vote was only to be­gin con­sid­er­a­tion of the bill. Repub­li­cans said they still have time to de­feat it later in the process.

And of the four op­pos­ing votes, three were Democrats — sig­nal­ing at least some op­po­si­tion within their party’s own ranks to try­ing to strip the tax ben­e­fits from oil com­pa­nies.

Across the Capi­tol, mean­while, Repub­li­cans who con­trol the House were strug­gling to find the same kind of una­nim­ity as they try to head off the im­pend­ing halt of all fed­er­ally spon­sored high­way build­ing, which is loom­ing at the end of this week.

House Repub­li­cans are try­ing to pass a 90-day stop­gap ex­ten­sion of road-build­ing au­thor­ity, but Democrats balked, say­ing the cham­ber should in­stead pass a bi­par­ti­san Se­nate ver­sion of the bill that gives the pro­gram two full years’ au­thor­ity and siphons money from the trea­sury to keep up with con­struc­tion plans.

The GOP had sched­uled a vote on its short-term bill for Mon­day night but pulled it from the sched­ule af­ter Democrats made clear they wouldn’t go along.

“We are in the midst of bi­par­ti­san con­ver­sa­tions about a short-term ex­ten­sion of the high­way bill,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner. “To fa­cil­i­tate those con­ver­sa­tions, the House vote on an ex­ten­sion will oc­cur later this week rather than tonight.”

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, said last week he was “not in­clined” to ac­cept a short-term bill. But on Mon­day he said he would be open to that as long as Repub­li­cans agreed to a path to con­sider the Se­nate’s bill in the near fu­ture.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple will know who to blame if chaos in the House Re­pub­li­can cau­cus costs us al­most 3 mil­lion jobs,” he said.

He and his fel­low Democrats also said they’ll push for votes on two small-busi­ness tax-cut pro­vi­sions Mr. Obama called for in his bud­get.

One plan calls for a 10 per­cent tax credit for busi­nesses that in­crease pay­roll in 2012. With a max­i­mum in­crease in el­i­gi­ble wages of $5 mil­lion per em­ployer and the amount of the credit capped at $500,000, the ben­e­fit tar­gets small busi­nesses.

The other pro­posal would al­low busi­nesses to write off 100 per­cent of ma­jor pur­chases made this year. Typ­i­cally, ma­jor pur­chases, such as large equip­ment or build­ings, must be writ­ten off over many years.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama and Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Ken­neth L. Salazar exit Air Force One at the Roswell In­ter­na­tional Air Cen­ter in Roswell, N.M., last week. Over the week­end, Mr. Obama is­sued a re­lease invit­ing in­dus­try in­put on an oil and gas lease sale in Alaska’s Cook In­let.

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