Rating the odds of final passage at “less than 50-50,” the senator from South Dakota said the energy bill could become lost in the large number of bills lawmakers must review before they leave Washington for the holidays.

Daschle’s comments came just hours before Senate Republicans began a scheduled 30 hours of debate aimed at protesting Senate Democrats’ refusal to allow votes on four of President Bush’s judicial nominees. Daschle called the marathon session a “colossal waste of time.”

He complained that instead of voting on the House-Senate conference report on the energy bill as had been scheduled today, House leaders canceled the vote and sent members home for the week.

Although noting that Congress has a number of important matters to deal with, “virtually nothing is happening this week on the energy bill because all of our colleagues in the House went home.”

Democrats have also been complaining that Republican members of the House-Senate energy conference refused to include them in the negotiating sessions on the measure. Daschle and other Senate Democrats have said they would block passage of the conference report if they decide it favors industry over consumers.

Conference committee leaders and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay had said the conference report would be released on Monday and the House would vote on its provisions today after Democrats were given time to review its provisions.

A spokesman for Sen. Peter Domenici, the conference chairman, told reporters Monday all the details on the conference report had not been finalized.

Much of the debate in the conference reportedly has involved providing more tax incentives for ethanol manufacturers vs. added tax breaks for the oil and gas industry sought by House Republican members.

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