The recorded vote was 57 for and 40 against -- three votes short of the 60 required to cut off debate -- but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist changed his vote to that he could file a motion to reconsider.

"We will have another vote before we leave here either early next week or whenever we can schedule it," Frist told Senate members after the cloture vote. "We will continue to vote until we pass it and send it to the president. This bill is too important to just let it die."

Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who voted for cloture, asked the Senate to send the bill back to conference to remove the "safe harbor" provision that exempts the manufacturers of MTBE, a gasoline additive, from product liability suits -- a provision that he said has served as a lightning rod for opponents of the bill.

But Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., the chairman of the House-Senate energy bill conference committee, said before the vote that such an action would be impossible because the conference committee had already been dissolved.

"The House has met and approved this bill," he said, "The conference committee's work is done and it has disbanded. If you don't vote to end debate and then pass this bill, you will have thrown away the chance to pass the ethanol provisions and other much-needed provisions in this bill." e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com