Home >News >World >US Congress nears lifting 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports
A photo of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who told fellow Republicans about the spending and tax legistlation in a closed-door meeting. Passage of the spending bill in the House isn’t guaranteed yet. Photo: AP
A photo of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who told fellow Republicans about the spending and tax legistlation in a closed-door meeting. Passage of the spending bill in the House isn’t guaranteed yet. Photo: AP

US Congress nears lifting 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports

US leaders had reached a deal pairing a $1.1 trillion spending bill which would fund the government through September 2016 with a separate measure to revive a series of expired tax breaks, which would lead to lifting ban on crude oil export

Washington: Congressional leaders unveiled a broad package of spending and tax legislation that would avert a US government shutdown and lift the 40-year-old ban on crude oil exports.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told fellow Republicans in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday night in Washington that leaders had reached a deal pairing a $1.1 trillion spending bill with a separate measure to revive a series of expired tax breaks. The spending bill would fund the government through September 2016.

“In divided government no one gets exactly what they want," Ryan told reporters Wednesday morning. By allowing oil exports, the fiscal plan is “a big win," he said.

Ryan told fellow Republicans that the House will vote on the tax measure on Thursday and the spending bill on Friday, said Representative Dennis Ross of Florida. The House passed a stopgap measure Wednesday morning to fund the government through 22 December. The Senate is aiming to vote on Friday, said Republicans Bob Corker of Tennessee and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Passage of the spending bill in the House isn’t guaranteed. Some conservative Republicans said Wednesday they may vote against it, and two senior House Democratic aides said that placing the language to lift the crude oil ban in the government spending bill—not the tax extender package—will reduce the number of Democratic votes.

“We have an agreement" with Democrats, Ryan said. “I do believe we will have bipartisan votes on both of these bills."

The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said in remarks from the floor of the chamber on Wednesday that the deal was imperfect but a “good compromise" that would protect middle-class Americans and boost the use of clean energy.

Industry benefits

The bill mixes a range of Republican-policy provisions, such as preventing the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring publicly traded companies to disclose their political contributions, with benefits to industry groups from health care to broadcasters to meat processors.

Government funding expires at the end of the day on Wednesday. Ryan, elected speaker in late October, and fellow Republicans want to show they can govern after years of threatened government shutdowns and a 16-day partial shutdown in October 2013.

Republican representative Ann Wagner of Missouri said the proposal to lift the crude oil export ban “is huge" and would have a “much bigger" effect than building the Keystone XL pipeline.

Industry sectors were among the beneficiaries in the massive bill. The two pieces of legislation would suspend three taxes intended to fund the Affordable Care Act—a so-called “Cadillac tax" on high-cost health insurance plans would be delayed from 2018 to 2020; a 2.3% tax on medical devices would be paused in 2016 and 2017; and a fee on health insurers would be paused for 2016.

Biodiesel credit

The tax measure would extend a $1 per gallon biodiesel credit and other benefits for renewable energy sources—provisions sought by Democrats in exchange for lifting the oil export ban. Wind developers would get at least five more years to claim a production tax credit, while the amount of that credit gradually scales down. Commercial and residential solar developers also would be able to claim an investment tax credit for at least five more years, though it would gradually phase down from covering 30% of qualifying costs today to 10%.

Mandatory “country-of-origin" labelling of meat imported from other countries would be ended under the bill, a change Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, praised. US meat-packers including Tyson Foods Inc. had sought a repeal and the move may help stave off $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs that Canada and Mexico won from the World Trade Organization earlier this month.

Congress also wants the government to rein in a nutrition panel that called for cutting meat and sugar in American diets in a draft of guidelines that upset industry groups and lawmakers earlier this year.

Broadcasters including Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and Nexstar Broadcasting Group Inc. also would get relief in the spending plan from pending restrictions on their ability to control more than one television station in a city, according to bill text.

11 September responders

Other provisions include restoring health benefits for first responders to the 11 September terror attacks who became sick because of their work and health-care payment aid for cash- strapped Puerto Rico, whose governor is in Washington this week.

The tax-extension measure would make a number of tax breaks permanent, including those for companies’ research and development, and allow small business owners to depreciate assets during the first year after purchase rather than over a number of years. Also to be made permanent are an enhanced child tax credit and earned income tax credit, as well as tax breaks for charitable giving and schoolteachers’ expenses.

Asked whether she planned to vote for the fiscal legislation, Wagner said, “You bet I am."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said the spending bill includes enough aid for Puerto Rico to get the debt-ridden island through February. The measure would increase payments to hospitals on the island and provide bonus Medicare payments to doctors and medical facilities that adopt electronic health-record keeping.

The health care payment increases would provide as much as $900 million over the next decade, said the island’s non-voting House member, Pedro Pierluisi, who had sought a provision granting Puerto Rico agencies access to Chapter 9 bankruptcy. “I am deeply disappointed but not discouraged," he said in a statement.

Democratic votes

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said last week that Republicans would need Democratic votes to help pass the plan. Passage could depend on how many Republicans Ryan can keep from voting against the measure. More than 167 of the 246 House Republicans voted against a budget bill in October.

“I probably am not going to be able to get there," said Republican Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, citing a number of concerns, including the lack of language dealing with some of his efforts to restrict abortion. The conservative group Heritage Action said it was urging lawmakers to vote against the spending bill, saying it “falls far short of achieving substantive policy victories on the issues Americans care about."

Republicans insist they won’t allow another government shutdown like the one in 2013 over an unsuccessful bid by party members to end funding for Obamacare. That shutdown cratered public opinion poll numbers for Republicans, who are particularly wary of a repeat as the 2016 election nears.

“I have no reason to believe we are going to have a shutdown," Ryan said on Wednesday. “In divided government, nobody gets everything they want."

Oil producers

US oil producers, including Continental Resources Inc., Pioneer Natural Resources Co. and ConocoPhillips, have been pressing for an end to restrictions on exports of most raw, unprocessed crude.

“We have the best technology, the best oil and over time we will drive out Russian oil, we will drive out Saudi, Iranian," Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas said in an interview. “It puts the United States in the driver’s seat of energy policy worldwide. It is a huge victory."

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said lifting the export ban was a “huge mistake" that “is a windfall for big oil at the expense of working Americans and our planet."

The spending measure would scale back a program that allows visa-free entry to the US for citizens of about three dozen countries, including much of Europe. People who have travelled recently to Iraq, Syria or other countries deemed to have significant terrorist activity would have to go through the normal visa process.

The legislation also would ratify an International Monetary Fund plan approved in 2010 to increase the voting share of emerging economies and double the amount of permanent funding available to the Washington-based fund. Until now, Republican opposition has prevented the IMF from implementing the changes. Bloomberg

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