Reid blocks amendments to extenders bill

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday formally blocked amendments to a tax bill, setting up a procedural vote this afternoon amid continuing tension over floor procedure that could sink the legislation despite its substantial bipartisan support.

Left hanging are a dozen energy tax incentives, including the renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC), several alternative fuel credits and incentives for energy efficiency. Those are among the more than 50 expired tax breaks that would be reinstated by the Senate bill, although they face stiffer resistance in the House.The energy provisions have not been a centerpiece of this week’s extenders debate, although both sides of the issue weighed in briefly yesterday.

A coalition of green groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, wrote to senators urging an extension of the clean energy and efficiency credits in the tax extenders bill, such as the PTC for renewable electricity, several alternative fuels credits and incentives to make homes and buildings more energy efficient.

“Businesses and investors need stable, predictable federal tax policy to create jobs, invest capital, and deploy pollution-reducing energy technologies,” the groups wrote. “Allowing the lapsed clean energy and energy efficiency tax provisions to languish undermines investor confidence and jeopardizes continued economic and environmental benefits.”

Also yesterday, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) spoke against the PTC in remarks from the Senate floor. They argued the wind industry was mature enough to survive without the credit, which was first implemented more than 20 years ago, and that it can distort energy markets.

As to arguments that not renewing the credit creates economic uncertainty, Flake argued, “If anything is unsure, we’re creating that insecurity when Congress simply goes again and again and renews it.”

Despite the criticisms, the energy credits do enjoy support from other Republican senators; that the issue splits the caucus has meant relatively little emphasis went to those provisions this week. Overall, Republicans focused their arguments more heavily on nonenergy pieces of the extenders package, and they also used this week to push for a vote on a controversial medical device tax implemented by the Affordable Care Act.

Reid’s blocking of GOP amendments to the tax extenders bill furthers a pattern that has enraged the minority party and led Republicans to block a popular energy efficiency bill earlier this week. Still, it is too soon to say whether Republicans would also block this bill, an $84 billion package of mostly popular incentives strongly supported by the business community.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Finance Committee, yesterday called for Reid to open up the bill to amendments, but he stopped short of threatening to support a filibuster. He praised the efforts of Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to allow for amendments to be considered at the committee level, but he said the rest of the chamber who are not members of the committee still deserve an opportunity to amend the bill.

“My only hope is that, now that the bill is on the floor, the Senate Democratic leadership will follow [Wyden’s] example and allow for a full and fair debate of this legislation,” Hatch said in a floor speech yesterday.

A cloture vote to formally end debate on the bill is scheduled for this afternoon; it will require 60 votes, meaning at least five Republicans will have to vote “yes” assuming all 55 members of the Democratic caucus are present and support the bill.