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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Senate Panel Passes Extension of Wind Energy Tax Credit


Senate Republicans rebuffed their presumptive presidential nominee as the Senate Finance Committee passed a one-year extension of the tax credit for wind energy, just four days after Mitt Romney's campaign announced that it wanted the credit to die.

The lawmakers had tried to unite around the position of the Republican presidential hopeful, leaving the wind production credit out of a slate of business tax breaks to be formally drafted on Thursday. But that drive faltered when Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, angrily told colleagues he would join with Democrats to add the extension back, according to Finance Committee aides. Rather than have a public fight, senators quietly inserted the one-year, $3.3 billion tax break before the committee took up the suite of tax breaks and passed them Thursday afternoon.

“It's not right to single out one energy incentive over others before a broader tax reform deb ate,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the committee, said presidential politics had nothing to do with the wrangling. Farm state lawmakers such as Mr. Grassley and Senator John R. Thune, Republican of South Dakota, simply were protecting an industry that is burgeoning in their regions.

Asked about Mr. Romney's decision to jump into the fray, Mr. Hatch shrugged. “The fact is people can take positions on special issues,” he said. “It will irritate some people, and it also lifts some people too.”

Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, another Republican on the Finance Committee, said China had “made quantum leaps, trying to capture the entire industry.” If Congress allowed the credit to end all at once, as Mr. Romney has endorsed, “basically you'd undercut the whole industry.”

Many conservatives disagree and are trying to eliminate all tax subsidies and let competing energy sources sink or swim on their own. But wind energy has become highly political as the election draws near. President Obama has loudly promoted the industry, and giving it federal stimulus money and backing tax credits. Mr. Romney took the opposite side.

And Iowa's prominence as a swing state has only added to the bluster around wind power.

The tax package passed the committee, 19-5, with the most conservative members voting against it. The measure is likely to be a top priority when the Senate returns in September.