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Senators to push for $100 gas rebate checks

Under proposal, most U.S. taxpayers would get one

From Dana Bash



Oil and Gas

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Most American taxpayers would get $100 rebate checks to offset the pain of higher pump prices for gasoline, under an amendment Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote soon.

However, the GOP energy package may face tough sledding because it also includes a controversial proposal to open part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, which most Democrats and some moderate Republicans oppose.

Democrats are also expected to offer their own competing proposal, as members of both parties jockey for political position on the gas price issue. ( readers offer solutions to the gas problem)

"Our plan would give taxpayers a hundred dollar gas tax holiday rebate check to help ease the pain that they're feeling at the pump," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced Thursday.

"It also includes strong federal anti-price gouging protection to protect consumers against anti-competitive behavior by oil companies or other suppliers of gasoline. Our free market system works, but it works best when there's full accountability and full transparency."

Frist said the rebates would go to single taxpayers making less than $125,000 per year, and couples making less than $150,000.

Republican senators said they hoped soaring gas prices would inspire Democrats to support their proposals.

"A lot of these other things we're talking about today, supply, like ANWR, have had Democrats oppose them in the past, when gas was $1.25, $1.50. Gas is now $3," said John Thune, R-South Dakota. "I would expect that there would be a lot more bipartisan support for proposals that would increase supply in this country."

"We have been trying for years to do something about supply without their help. I hope now that we'll have their help," he added.

But Democrats seemed unimpressed.

"It's designed to protect Big Oil while mistakenly believing that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will solve America's energy problems," Jim Manley, a spokesman for Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, told The Associated Press.

The energy package, sponsored by Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, will be offered as an amendment to an emergency spending measure now before the Senate funding the Iraq war and hurricane relief, according to a senior GOP leadership aide.

Under Senate rules, either the GOP amendment or the Democratic alternative would probably need 60 votes to pass, which is considered unlikely. However, the amendments would give senators a change to cast votes on measures designed to help constituents being hit by high gas prices.

As outlined by Frist and other GOP senators, the energy package would give taxpayers a $100 rebate, repeal tax incentives for oil companies and allow the Federal Trade Commission to prosecute retailers unlawfully inflating the price of gasoline.

The measure would also give the Transportation Department authority to issue fuel efficiency standards for passenger vehicles, expand tax incentives for the use of hybrid vehicles and push for more research into alternative fuels and expansion of existing oil refineries.

The GOP senators are also calling on the Bush administration to suspend deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for six months to increase the nation's oil supply. President Bush announced Tuesday that he would halt new deposits into the reserve until after the summer driving season. (Full story)

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats on Wednesday called for a new energy bill and federal legislation to punish price gougers.

"There's no reason why we can't put forth a real energy policy that addresses the needs of this nation," said Rep. Bart Stupak, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, "from gouging to market manipulation to biofuels. We can do it." (Full story)

And leaders of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday asked the Internal Revenue Service to let them examine the tax returns of the nation's 15 largest oil and gas companies, as part of a "comprehensive review" of oil industry profits.

"I want to make sure the oil companies aren't taking a speed pass by the tax man," said Grassley, the committee's chairman, in a written statement. (Full story)

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