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McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats tried Tuesday to channel public anger at $4-a-gallon gasoline into passing a bill to repeal federal tax breaks and subsidies for five major oil companies, but they fell short.

After bashing Big Oil in a hearing last week, Senate Democrats mustered fewer than the 60 votes they needed under Senate rules to move the bill to a final vote. The final count was 52-48. Three Democrats - Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Ben Nelson of Nebraska - voted against the measure. Only two Republicans - Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins - voted for the bill.

Tuesday's action effectively kills the bill, which framed symbolically the different strategies that congressional Democrats and Republicans prefer for reducing budget deficits, confronting energy policy choices and appealing for voters' favor.

Democrats argued that the five major oil companies targeted by the legislation - ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP America, Shell Oil Co. and Chevron Corp. - have huge profits and do not need tax breaks, even though ending them wouldn't cut deficits much. The five companies' profits totaled about $35 billion in this year's first quarter. Ending their tax breaks would cost them about $21 billion over 10 years. The federal budget deficit is projected to be about $1.4 trillion this year, and about $7 trillion over 10 years.

Shorter drilling time: The Obama administration is asking Congress to shorten the time energy companies get to start drilling on public lands they lease, as part of the government's strategy to boost oil and gas production, the Associated Press reported.


Wisconsin Senate seat: House budget chair Paul Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Tuesday that he will not seek the U.S. Senate seat now held by Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl, saying, "It would make no sense to leave where I am right now because I have such a bigger impact" in the House. Kohl announced Friday he won't run for re-election next year, creating the state's first Senate vacancy in 24 years.

Missouri Senate seat: Rep. Todd Akin, R-St. Louis, entered Missouri's U.S. Senate race while casting himself as "the literal, exact opposite" of Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, AP reported. Akin, 63, described himself as a "consistent conservative" while announcing his candidacy Tuesday at a news conference in the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur.