WASHINGTON -- The House began debating the energy bill yesterday, even though final decisions still had not been made on the fate of a host of tax provisions, including two that would affect the tax-exempt bond market.

Normally, the House does not begin considering a bill until the House Rules Committee clears the bill for floor action. In the case of the energy bill, however, the rules panel did not complete work on Tuesday as scheduled.

The committee permitted the House to begin debating the measure yesterday while it made final decisions on issues that had not been resolved, including the bill's controversial tax section.

The rules panel was supposed to complete its work last night, and the House is expected to take a final vote on the energy bill later today.

When the House Ways and Means Committee added the tax section earlier this month, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., reportedly wanted the rules panel to eliminate it.

But he and Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., eventually agreed to keep the noncontroversial tax amendments in the bill, including the bond provisions.

The agreement says the more contentious amendments would be removed from the bill and offered as amendments on the House floor.

But the rules committee still has to ratify the agreement, congressional aides said.

One of the bond provisions would increase the supply of bank-qualified bonds. Under current law, banks may deduct 80% of the cost of carrying tax-exempt bonds only if they are bought from issuers who expect to sell less than $10 million annually. The provision would raise that limit to $20 million.

The other provision would remove restrictions on investments made by nuclear decommissioning trust funds, and would lower the funds' 34% tax rate to 20%.

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