Energy Takes Center Stage On Capitol Hill

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House and Senate lawmakers returned to work this week after a five-week break, and both chambers are back to squabbling over what should be done to bring down energy prices.

In the House, Democrats announced on Tuesday that they'll soon roll out new energy legislation. Although they were short on specifics, leaders say they expect the chamber will consider the package this week. The Senate plans to take up energy legislation next week.

House Republicans are calling for more oil drilling and are demanding an up or down vote on lifting a 26-year-old moratorium on drilling in the outer continental shelf of the U.S.

During the August recess, they held ad hoc sessions in the darkened chamber. But on Tuesday, they had both the lights and the TV cameras trained on them.

Speaking on the floor, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) appealed directly to the chamber's top Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

"Speaker Pelosi, respectfully, you could turn off the lights on the House floor, you could shut off the microphones, but you cannot silence the majority of the American people that want a comprehensive bill and want to drill here, drill more, drill now," Pence said.

An hour and a half later, Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol that she, too, was all for a comprehensive energy bill — just not the kind her GOP colleagues are seeking.

"Even their own supporters have said we cannot drill ourselves out of this emergency situation," Pelosi said.

Pelosi said House Democrats do indeed want to expand domestic energy production as well as expand alternative energy supplies and protect consumers. But, she said, the energy bill her party intends to bring to the floor this week for a vote is still a work in progress.

When asked just where the Democrats might allow more domestic oil drilling, Pelosi said bill negotiators were still working on the issue. Specifically, Pelosi said they were looking at language favored by a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers dealing with drilling in the Southeast.

The Senate group — which calls itself the Gang of 10 — last month proposed to allow Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia to decide whether to permit oil drilling more than 50 miles from their Atlantic shores.

But Republicans want all offshore drilling restrictions lifted.

On Tuesday, House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) indicated he may recommend that President Bush veto an annual stopgap spending bill if it contains a renewal of the drilling moratorium.

That brought a sharp response from Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), a member of the House Democratic leadership.

"If Mr. Blunt's recommendation to the president is for a veto to force that, he'd be the author of the shutdown of the government," Emanuel says.

But some Republicans today appeared dead set against allowing any extension of the drilling moratorium in a big spending bill. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) warned against trying to link such a rider to the appropriations process.

"We cannot allow that to happen," Kyl said.

Democrats hope the drilling measures they've proposed will be enough to get Republicans to back down. As Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pointed out, the GOP was behind the last government shutdown in 1995 when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) was in charge.

"I would hope that some of those people have read very recent history where Gingrich tried to do that and it didn't work out well for the Republicans, and certainly didn't work out well for this country," Reid said.



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