Lawmakers Mixed On Bush's Call To Expand Drilling

At Tuesday's White House news conference, President Bush urged Congress to lift its ban on offshore oil drilling. Democratic leaders in Congress reacted coolly to the president's demand, but seemed to leave a door open to putting the issue to a vote.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

On Monday, President Bush lifted an executive ban on exploring for oil and gas in the deep waters of the U.S. outer continental shelf. His father put that ban in place 18 years ago.

Yesterday, Mr. Bush urged Congress to lift its longstanding ban to help boost domestic oil production. Democratic leaders in Congress reacted coolly to the president's demand, but seemed to leave the door open to putting the issue to a vote. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA: As President Bush prodded Congress to lift its 27-year ban on oil and gas exploration in the outer continental shelf, he portrayed top congressional Democrats as being out of touch with the majority of Americans. Recent polls show they favor such exploration.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Democratic leaders have been delaying action on offshore exploration, and now they have an opportunity to show that that they finally heard the frustrations of the American people. They should match the action I have taken, repeal the congressional ban and pass legislation to facilitate responsible offshore exploration.

WELNA: But when House Speak Nancy Pelosi was later asked about the president's demand to lift the ban, she accused him of ignoring what she said was foremost on Americans' minds.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): This economy needs the president's attention, and he doesn't need to have any diversionary tactics about drilling offshore when it isn't, by his own admission, going to have any effect for many years to come.

WELNA: The top Democrat in the Senate seemed more receptive to letting lawmakers vote on lifting the drilling ban. Majority leader Harry Reid said he wants to focus first on cracking down on oil futures speculators, and if he gets bipartisan support for that, he'd be open to Republican amendments, which could include lifting the drilling ban.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): I'm not ruling it out. What I'm saying is that right now, the Democratic caucus does not support this flawed proposal of the president to allow states to determine what can happen on federal lands.

WELNA: That's because Republicans want to let seaside states have a say on offshore drilling and also reap royalties from any oil production. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he knows of at least 10 Senate Democrats who now favor increasing offshore exploration.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): They're acknowledging a groundswell of public opinion, even among self-described liberals, in favor of more, more domestic supply.

WELNA: It's an issue that McConnell says his Democratic colleagues oppose at their peril this election year. David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.

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