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Stingy 112th Will Test Corporate Influences

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped a vote scheduled for Wednesday on his natural gas tax credit bill.

Amid Republican opposition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday abandoned his $3.8 billion subsidy that would entice transportation firms to swap out their dirty diesel trucks for cleaner-burning natural gas vehicles.

The decision by Democratic leadership to call off a vote today on Reid’s bill is likely a sign of things to come in the 112th Congress. On the campaign trail, many Republican Members-elect made broad promises to slash federal spending. And now those pre-election pledges are bumping up against the outspoken wants of powerful industries.

Lobbyists and lawmakers are already furiously working on rewrites of federal transportation and agriculture policy, but Republicans warn that Reid’s seemingly doomed natural gas bill is a precursor of next year.

“There have been some positive discussions with Republicans about moving forward on the natural gas and electric vehicles legislation,” Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle wrote in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon. “Senator Reid has talked to Senator Hatch and others and thinks that vitiating the cloture vote at this point would increase the chances that we’ll be able to get a bipartisan agreement to pass this important legislation before the end of the year.”

Despite the endorsement and expensive lobbying campaign of one-time prominent GOP donor T. Boone Pickens, nearly all K Street observers ahead of today’s vote had expected Reid’s Promoting Natural Gas and Electric Vehicles Act to fall well short of the votes necessary to cut off debate. Republicans balked early on at both the legislation’s steep price tag and at how Democrats planned to pay for it: tapping into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

“We just had this massive oil spill, and you want to go raid the trust fund?” a Senate Republican aide said Tuesday morning. “That doesn’t make any sense and is tantamount to a tax increase at a time when the American people are in open revolt.”

The aide added that Republicans are going to insist that any tax credits or new spending be paid for so they don’t add to the budget deficit.

“When all of these outstanding things are going to be consumed by unemployment, the doc fix, et cetera, everything else is going to fall by the wayside,” the aide said. “There’s a limited amount of money left and the Democrats in the Senate will try and use what’s left to push their agenda. The business community isn’t high on their list.”

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