WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Democratic bill to repeal billions of dollars in tax breaks for the top five oil companies that operate in the United States will likely fail next week, the chair of the Senate's Energy Committee said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hopes his chamber will hold a preliminary vote next week on the bill that would use the savings to ease the deficit by $21 billion over a decade.
Republicans may launch a counterproposal, but neither has much of a chance, Jeff Bingaman, the chair of the Energy Committee in the Democrat-led Senate, said in an interview taped for C-SPAN's Newsmakers show, which will air on Sunday.
"I don't think there will be enough votes to proceed to consider either of the two bills," he said.
Bingaman, who will not seek reelection, said he was not sure how he would vote for the bill. "Whether or not all of (the tax breaks) should be pared back I'm not certain at this point," he said.
"I've voted in some cases to remove and reduce tax breaks for the oil industry in other cases I've voted not to because I felt that the proposals covered too much," he said.
Fellow Democrat Senator Max Baucus has a plan that would divert the savings from killing the tax breaks oil companies have enjoyed for decades to clean energy programs, rather than using them to reduce the deficit.
Bingaman said some of the savings could be used for clean energy programs that are set to expire, such as tax breaks for solar and wind energy. "That would add an additional argument to those who support this proposal, but clearly we need to reduce the deficit as well as extend these tax provisions for clean energy," he said.
Bingaman previously voted against a bill to repeal tax breaks for Big Oil sponsored by fellow Democrat Senator Carl Levin.
Separately, Bingaman said in the short-term the time has passed on considering whether to tap U.S. emergency oil reserves as crude prices have dropped from about $113 a barrel to about $100 a barrel.
There is still an oil supply disruption due to turmoil in Libya, he said. "But I don't see it worsening and it's pretty clear there's no shortage of oil worldwide."
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Alden Bentley)
Corrects second paragraph to show Reid saying bill would ease the deficit $21 billion over a decade, not over five years.