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Archive for Friday, July 29, 2005

House passes energy bill; transit vote delayed

July 29, 2005

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— A national energy plan that would send billions of dollars in tax subsidies to energy companies passed the House on Thursday, while a vote on a $286.4 billion highway and transit bill was put off until today.

The bill passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 275-156, despite criticism from many lawmakers that it would do nothing to dampen high prices or lessen dependence on Middle East oil.

Within hours, the Senate began debating the legislation, with plans to vote on it today.

"This bill is going to go through lickety-split," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., though he denounced it as a collection of giveaways to cash-rich energy companies that would fail to curb the nation's thirst for imported oil.

Seventy-five Democrats joined Republicans in moving the 1,725-page legislation through the House.

"It is not a perfect bill," said Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the top House Democrat involved in crafting the legislation. "But it is a solid beginning to developing an energy strategy for the 21st century."

Sponsors said it would improve the nation's electricity grid and foster energy conservation as well as production. In a move widely awaited in the Farm Belt, it also calls for doubling the use of corn-produced ethanol in gasoline to 7.5 billion gallons a year by 2012.

And it would extend daylight saving time by a month - an extra three weeks in the spring and another week in the fall - to save energy.

Meanwhile, the House, after years of delay, was forced to wait another day to pass a $286.4 billion highway and mass transit bill that would send lawmakers home for their summer vacations bearing big gifts of roads, bridges and jobs.

A scheduled House late Thursday on the 1,600-page package was put off until today when several House members strenuously objected to a provision placed in the bill by the Senate that would reopen a closed runway at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., whose own state could lose a submarine base at Groton under the latest round of proposed base closings, said it was "absolutely outrageous" that the highway bill was being used to reverse a previous decision on closing a military facility.

House leaders decided to reconvene this morning after trying to resolve the controversy. The Senate is also scheduled to take up the six-year highway bill today before Congress recesses for its six-week summer break.

With the president's expected signature, passage of the transportation act would end an almost two-year impasse in which Congress and the White House battled over the proper spending levels and states were at odds over how best to divide up the billions in federal highway money.

The bill would direct federal funds to thousands of projects requested by members, from $200 million for a bridge in Alaska named for the chairman of the House Transportation Committee to $2 million to pave roads on a South Dakota Indian reservation.

The watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense said the bill contained 5,696 such "earmarks," not counting bus projects, worth approximately $21 billion.

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