Hill Debate: To Drill Or Not To Drill?

Republicans think advocating for more oil rigs is working for them, even with gas prices down a little. Democrats in Congress recessed for August a few days early last week rather than vote on drilling proposals. But Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he's willing to compromise on the issue.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host

Political storms now and off-shore drilling, Republicans think advocating for more oil rigs is working for them, even with gas prices down a little. Democrats in Congress recessed for August a few days early last week, rather than vote on drilling proposals, but Barack Obama says he's willing to compromise on this issue. Joining us is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, the Democrats really opposed to having a vote on this issue.

RON ELVING: The leaders are particularly opposed to it, because they're trying to protect some of their members who oppose any kind of increase in off-shore drilling, any new off-shore drilling at all. And they don't necessarily want to have a vote on it because they realize that in other parts of the country, that is a very popular idea. So, if you are Nancy Pelosi, for example, and you represent San Francisco, you really don't want to have a vote on this that'll be tough on a lot of your members. And you don't really want to see a lot of those members desert you and vote with the Republicans, and actually give some momentum to the idea of lifting the law that bans off-shore drilling.

CHADWICK: You know, this has gotten to be a little bit of an issue with some publicity attached to it, I guess, because even though Congress did recess last week - that is, they shut down - some Republicans didn't leave. They stayed in the chamber, and they talked about drilling.

ELVING: Yes, they stuck around last week to talk about it, and they are back again today to talk about it. Now, of course, they can't get the cameras up and running, C-Span is out of business when the House is not officially in session. So, there is no Congress, really, there is no official meeting, but the Republicans are using the occasion to call attention to their position and say they want to talk about it, they want to vote.

CHADWICK: How about Senator Obama's position on this?

ELVING: Senator Obama's position on this is evolving, he might say, because he has been opposed to any new off-shore drilling. But now he says he would be willing to accept some well off the coast, if it were part of a package that rescinded some of the tax breaks that the oil industry has enjoyed in recent years, and that also committed the country to making 85 percent of all vehicles non-fossil-fuel burning. Now, that's a big deal, and getting that done in 20 years would really change the country. And that would send a huge signal, obviously, to the oil market, if that were to become law. And he's offering as the price for that, the willingness to accept some off-shore drilling, well off-shore.

CHADWICK: Senator McCain was talking quite a lot about this last week; he's in Michigan again today.

ELVING: And this has become the one issue where the Republicans are really getting good traction right now. John McCain trails Barack Obama on the economic front, in terms of the polling, and most people are showing more confidence in the Democrats on the economy, but this is one where the Republicans are doing very well. People like the idea, that is to say, people who don't live right on the coasts, or in coastal states. They like the idea of trying to find more oil that would be within U.S. control and of course, we're getting a lot of our oil already from the Gulf Coast. So, we're talking here about expanding that to the outer continental shelf off the East and West coasts.

CHADWICK: Ron Elving, senior Washington editor, a regular Monday guest on Day to Day. Ron, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex.

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