The Senate argued about U.S. energy policy for two days this week before Republicans closed ranks and turned away legislation Thursday to raise taxes on major oil companies – a bill that also included the much sought-after tax credit for wind power manufacturers such as Vestas.
The outcome was expected, but it marks the fourth time this year that wind-power supporters failed to get the tax credit passed in the Senate.
Vestas and other turbine manufacturers have warned they will lay off thousands of workers – as many as 1,600 in Colorado – unless Congress acts fairly quickly to extend the federal tax credit for turbine users.
The credit is set to expire in December but manufacturers are taking orders now for the coming year.
Thursday’s vote was on legislation from Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. It called for shutting off $25 billion in tax credits for major oil companies over the the next decade. Included in the bill was a list of credit extensions for alternative energy industries, including the wind power tax credit, which was first created in 1992.
Although Democrats have a slight majority, Senate rules require 60 approving votes to invoke “cloture” and end debate on a bill, which then forces an up-or-down vote on the measure. Democrats fell short of the 60-vote goal Thursday, getting only 51 votes to end debate. There were 47 votes – nearly every Republican – against the bill.
Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall were among the Democrats who supported it. Both said they would keep working to get the wind power tax credit through the Senate.
The wind power credit has bipartisan supporters. Sens. Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Democrat and Republican, both back it. Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican, is working with the Colorado senators for the credit.
“Standing on its own, this tax credit has bipartisan support and I believe it would pass,” Bennet said after Thursday’s vote.
But it hasn’t stood alone. There is a list of business tax credits set to expire this year and their supporters want them attached to legislation, just the way Udall and Bennet are backing wind power.
While the outcome of Thursday’s vote wasn’t unexpected, the debate itself was. Republicans surprised the Democratic leadership on Monday by agreeing to let Menendez bring his bill to the floor. Democrats wanted to use the debate to spotlight oil company profits and answer a steady drumfire of Republican criticism that President Barack Obama’s administration is causing the rise in gasoline prices.
Republicans wanted the debate for the same reason – a Senate stage to keep charging that Obama has a restrictive energy policy that limits U.S. oil and gas production.
But when the speeches were over, the GOP still blocked any action on the bill.
For Bennet and Udall, the vote marked the fourth time this year that wind power supporters have failed to get the credit passed in the Senate. It’s been turned away from the payroll tax deduction bill in January; a major federal transportation bill in March; the financial deregulation “jobs” bill the Senate passed a week ago and now as part of the Menendez legislation.
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