Congress In Stalemate Over Oil, Gas
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Members of Congress are soon to head off on a five-week recess, and they're likely to leave a big topic of concern to voters unresolved. That issue: high gas prices.
Today, Senate Republicans filibustered a bill by Democrats. That legislation is aimed at curbing oil speculators who help inflate prices, and another energy bill faces similar resistance this weekend. NPR's David Welna reports on the energy stalemate.
DAVID WELNA: Just two Republicans voted with Senate Democrats in their failed effort today to cut off a GOP filibuster of the anti-speculation bill. Minority leader Mitch McConnell derided that bill, which would boost oversight of oil futures trading, as completely inadequate for reining in high oil prices.
Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): The American people have been telling us for months that the house is on fire, and the Democrats just showed up at the scene with a squirt gun, a squirt gun.
WELNA: It was a day of political spin. McConnell cast today's vote as simply an effort by Republicans to keep debating what he called the nation's number one issue, and Texas Republican John Cornyn said the ones blocking any progress on energy legislation are the Democratic leaders and their presidential hopeful.
Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): We need to find a few Democrats who are willing to defy their leadership, because effectively what we have is a blockade, a political blockade formed by Senator Obama, Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi, who are inhibiting, making it impossible for the American people to get what they overwhelmingly want.
WELNA: What Americans want, Cornyn said, is for Congress to open the outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration, but New York Democrat Chuck Schumer pointed out that Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed earlier this week to let Republicans have an amendment on drilling, but they refused for fear of losing.
Senator CHUCK SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): Senator Reid has offered them everything. It is false to say that they couldn't get a vote on drilling. He offered them a vote on drilling. I heard him offer it privately; you heard him offer it publicly.
WELNA: Reid himself voted against the anti-speculation bill but only because that allowed him to reintroduce the bill later.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): So we'll come back and visit it. It's something that will lower prices by 20 to 50 percent.
WELNA: In the meantime, Reid plans to keep the Senate in session all weekend. He intends to bring up another energy bill that would double federal assistance for high home heating bills. Thirteen Republicans have said they support the bill, but Reid thinks they may still oppose bringing it up.
Sen. REID: It's a pretty tough vote, so if they want to do that and go home and explain to the people in Maine and the mountains of Idaho and other places where it gets really cold this winter that they're not going to get any help, I think that's a very, very dangerous place for them to go.
WELNA: One of the Republicans who backed the so-called (unintelligible) bill but intends to oppose bringing it up is New Hampshire's Judd Gregg.
Senator JUDD GREGG (Republican, New Hampshire): The best way to address the issue of making energy affordable for low-income people in New England and middle-income people in New England is to address the issue of supply. That's what's going to bring down the price of energy.
WELNA: And Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, who faces a tough re-election bid, expressed similar confidence that his party holds the upper hand in this struggle over energy policy.
Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): My Minnesotans are smart; Americans are smart. They get it. They know we need to use every resource at our disposal to deal with this energy crisis, and they also know politicking when they see it.
WELNA: Democrat Schumer replies that voters have Republicans pegged.
Sen. SCHUMER: The Republicans equal big oil in the past. They do what big oil wants.
WELNA: A verdict in this fight may only come next November. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.