Energy Plans Unresolved As Congress Recesses

On Capitol Hill, members of the House and Senate are about to leave on a five-week summer recess. They are leaving without an answer on what to do about high energy prices. Republicans want more offshore drilling but Democrats do not.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Today is the last day the House and Senate meet for the next five weeks, and it appears lawmakers will leave for their August recess without giving an answer to the president on offshore drilling.

Earlier this week, President Bush called on Congress to lift a long-standing ban on drilling in the U.S. outer continental shelf.

GEORGE W: Legislation to open up this offshore exploration is pending in both the House and the Senate, and all the Democratic leaders have to do is allow a vote.

MONTAGNE: Well, that vote has not happened, and Republicans are hoping the Democrats who run Congress will pay a political price. Those Democrats appear just as confident voters will hammer Republicans for blocking vote on developing alternative energy sources. NPR's David Welna reports on the energy showdown on Capitol Hill.

DAVID WELNA: After weeks of wrangling over what to do about $4-a-gallon gasoline, both sides in the debate appear exhausted, but Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn vowed yesterday he and other allies of President Bush would keep pressing to open up the 85-percent of the outer continental shelf that remains closed to oil drilling.

JOHN CORNYN: Because on this side of the aisle, we believe that it's - we should not leave here, we should not adjourn for the summer, for the August recess, without addressing this pressing issue.

WELNA: The problem, as the Senate's number-two Republican, John Kyl pointed out, comes down to this.

JOHN KYL: Republicans want more offshore drilling; Democrats do not.

WELNA: So even though nobody expected Senate Democrats to say yes, minority leader Mitch McConnell made one last stab at getting the vote President Bush had asked for.

MITCH M: I would ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of a Senate bill to address drilling in the outer continental shelf.

WELNA: When Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar objected, McConnell proposed lifting the drilling ban only if gas prices hit $10 a gallon. Salazar still objected.

KEN SALAZAR: No matter how you cut it, the Department of Energy and the Energy Information Administration has said we're not going to be producing anything out there for seven to 10 years. And so it's not going to have an impact on gasoline now, so that really raises the question what's the real motivation of these amendments and these agendas on the Republican side, and it really is a stalling tactic to keep gas on the minds to the people through the month of August so that they play it for their own political advantage.

WELNA: And Dick Durbin, the Senate's number-two Democrat, pointed out that the Republicans' push for more drilling came on the same day that U.S. oil companies announced another quarter of record-breaking multi-billion dollar profits, and their executives have contributed far more to Republicans than they have to Democrats.

DICK DURBIN: The real reason behind the position on the Republican side - this is the oil companies' agenda. This is the oil companies' answer. Keep drilling, give us more land, give us more options, let us put these in our portfolio - the same oil companies that are reporting not just record-breaking profits for oil companies, but record-breaking profits for American businesses.

WELNA: And that's not a bad thing, argued New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg

JUDD GREGG: Yes, the oil companies are making some big profits. They're spending it to look for oil, also. When they're not spending to look for oil, they're actually paying some dividends, and who gets those dividends. Well, if they're American companies, I expect they're Americans.

WELNA: Democrats say they'll keep pushing for alternative energy, which they say is the future, and for passage of a bill putting curbs on speculation in oil futures. But their leader, Harry Reid, said that won't happen until after the summer recess.

HARRY REID: Because of the Republicans, the speculation thing's over until the fall.

WELNA: While the two sides argued, oil prices fell several dollars a barrel on world markets, on concerns that demand for high-priced petroleum is now falling. David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.

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