An $85 billion tax package that included reviving a key subsidy to the wind energy industry was struck down by the Senate on Thursday, after Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to let Republicans offer an amendment to kill the wind subsidy altogether.
Only one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), voted with Democrats to extend the tax package, which would have revived 50 tax subsidies for numerous industries after the Senate let them expire at the end of 2013. Among other things, Republicans had wanted to offer amendments to strike the Wind Production Tax Credit from the Senate package, a $13 billion tax break to the wind industry to help them compete with fossil fuels.
Reid, however, filed cloture on the bill Wednesday, using a procedural move that blocks the minority party’s ability to call up amendments. Republicans then blocked the entire bill from moving forward.
“We have a tax bill here that members from both sides want to improve and support. Yet we don’t get a chance to amend it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) told The Hill.
“Republicans can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer — they just voted against the second bipartisan bill in less than a week,” Reid said. He suggested that Republicans might be hearing from “their friends down on K Street” about voting against tax cuts.
The Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind is a subsidy that’s been built into the tax code for years to encourage growth in the wind industry. Reinvigorated by the 2009 stimulus, it was initially scheduled to expire in 2012 unless Congress decided to renew it. At the very last minute, it was renewed for one more year, but ended up expiring on January 1, 2014 due to Congressional gridlock.
Part of that gridlock was driven by opposition from Republicans who oppose giving tax breaks to the wind industry on the grounds that it amounts to a form a “welfare” that unfairly props up an industry present in some states but not others.
Of course, the whole point of a tax break for wind energy producers is to increase incentives for investment in wind power, which proponents say would ultimately increase the amount of wind power in the United States to a point where it can compete with conventional sources and further help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the moment, it’s particularly hard for wind to compete with, say, the oil and gas industries, which benefit from a wealth of federal tax carve-outs, even though the economic activity they generate is concentrated in just a few key states.
In fact, onshore wind power in the United States was booming up through 2012 — that is, until Congressional Republicans threatened to let the PTC expire. Even though they eventually renewed it for 2013, the uncertainty for its future led to the boom stalling out, eventually flatlining in 2014 after the credit expired, as shown in this interactive map from the Department of Energy.
The Wind Production Tax Credit is the latest casualty of what seems to be a week-long Senate war against legislation that would support clean energy and energy efficiency. On Monday, a bipartisan energy efficiency bill failed after a majority of Senate Republicans refused to end a filibuster after days of discussion on the legislation.
That fight was also over amendments, as Republicans had wanted to attach amendments that would speed up natural gas exports and oppose EPA regulations on future power plants. Reid blocked those amendments, triggering Republicans to block the passage of the bill, known as Shaheen-Portman.
As The Hill notes, Thursday’s vote on tax extenders was not on the bill itself but on a substitute amendment to H.R. 3474, the legislative vehicle for the tax extender package. The amendment can be called up again later if needed, but for now, it’s not looking like it will be any time soon.