WASHINGTON The Senate passed a trimmed-back energy bill Thursday that would bring higher-gas mileage cars and SUVs into showrooms in the coming decade and fill their tanks with ethanol.
The measure was approved with bipartisan support 86-8 after Democrats abandoned efforts to impose billions of dollars in new taxes on the biggest oil companies, unable by one vote to overcome a Republican filibuster against the new taxes.
The bill now goes to the House where a vote is expected next week. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky predicted President Bush will sign it.
The measure calls for the first major increase by Congress in required automobile fuel efficiency in 32 years, something the auto companies have fought for two decades.
The car companies will have to achieve an industrywide average 35 mile per gallon for cars, small trucks and SUVs over the next 13 years, an increase of 10 mpg over what the entire fleet averages today.
And it would boost use of ethanol to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a sevenfold increase, and impose an array of new requirements to promote efficiency in appliances, lighting and buildings.
This bill "will begin to reverse our addiction to oil. It's a step to fight global warming," said Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The increased efficiency by 2020 will save 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, equal to half the oil now imported from the Persian Gulf, save consumers $22 billion at the pump, and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 200 million tons, said Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii., whose committee crafted the measure.
"It demonstrates to the world that America is a leader in fighting global warming," he said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., a longtime protector of the auto industry that is so important to his state, called the fuel economy measure "ambitious but achievable."
For consumers, the legislation will mean that over the next dozen years auto companies will likely build more diesel-powered SUVs and gas-electric hybrid cars as well as vehicles that can run on 85 percent ethanol.
In other action Thursday:
• The House approved an intelligence bill that would prohibit the CIA from using waterboarding, mock executions and other harsh interrogation methods.
The 222-199 vote sent the measure to the Senate, which still must act before it can go to President Bush. The White House has threatened a veto.
The bill, a House-Senate compromise to authorize intelligence operations in 2008, also blocks spending 70 percent of the intelligence budget until the House and Senate intelligence committees are briefed on Israel's Sept. 6 air strike on an alleged nuclear site in Syria.
• The Senate rejected two attempts to limit annual payments to farmers Thursday, frustrating lawmakers who had hoped that this year's multibillion-dollar farm bill would scale back the government's massive subsidy programs.
The chamber first rejected, 56-43, a bipartisan amendment to the $286 billion bill that would have limited overall farm payments to $250,000 yearly per married couple, down from the current limit of $360,000. Under an agreement between the parties to avoid delaying tactics, the amendment needed 60 votes to survive.
The amendment also was meant to close loopholes that allow some farmers to collect higher payments and required that farmers be "actively engaged" to receive subsidies.
"We have a federal farm program to help family farmers make it through tough times," said North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat who sponsored the amendment with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. "It was not created to send multimillion-dollar payments to giant corporate farms, or payments to people who haven't been near a farm in decades."
Later in the day, senators rejected an amendment by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, that would have banned payments to farmers who make more than $750,000 a year, after expenses. The vote was 48-47, and 60 votes were required for adoption.
• Congressional negotiators struggled to cut hundreds of federal programs, big and small, as they fashioned a $500 billion-plus catchall government funding bill Thursday.
But agreement with the White House remained elusive, even though negotiations went ahead on the assumption that Democrats would largely accept President Bush's strict budget for domestic programs and that he would ease up a bit if additional funding for Iraq is approved.
In the meantime, the House passed a bill to keep the federal government open for another week to give negotiators time to fashion the omnibus spending bill, pass it in both the House and Senate and then adjourn for the year.