Cutting Energy Costs: Little Consensus In Congress
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
And here's what comes out near the top of the list, and that's gas prices. So it's no surprise that Congress seems determined to do something about energy this summer. NPR's David Welna has been following the debate, and he joins us now. Good morning.
DAVID WELNA: Good morning, Deb.
AMOS: So, once again, lawmakers say it's energy week up on the Hill. Let's start with the Senate. What's happening there?
WELNA: Well, the Democrats in charge of the Senate are trying to get going on a bill they're calling the Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act. It's their opening bid for trying to bring down prices at the pump, and it takes aim at those who speculate on oil futures purely as investments, as opposed to, say, airlines that buy such futures as a practical hedge against rising fuel prices.
Democrats contend pure speculation may account for as much as 30 percent of the recent rise in oil prices. So while they acknowledge this won't solve everything, they call it a good first step.
AMOS: But do Republicans go along with it?
WELNA: Well, Republicans generally take a dim view of the Democrats' emphasis on government intervention to force down oil prices, although they, too, acknowledge the need for more cops on the beat when it comes to futures trading.
Republicans actually prefer less government intervention. They want to lift decades-long bans on drilling for oil and gas in the outer continental shelf, and that's exactly what President Bush did last week when he lifted an executive drilling ban put in place by his father. But Congress would still have to lift an even older moratorium.
So Senate Republicans are hoping that by attaching an amendment to the Democrats' anti-speculation measure, they could do that, but it's not clear they will be able to. The thing to watch is a Senate vote tomorrow on breaking what is, in effect, a Republican filibuster of the anti-speculation bill. And if that can be broken, we could see some concessions because there are some Democrats teaming up with Republicans to expand the areas open to domestic oil exploration.
AMOS: All right, now we've done the Senate. Let's look at the House because they have their own approach to gas prices.
WELNA: Right. House Democrats insist there are already more than enough areas available for oil exploration without opening up new ones. And they point out that 68 million acres are already leased to oil companies, which are not producing. But House Democrats failed last week to get a two-thirds majority that they needed to pass a so-called use-it-or-lose-it measure that would push oil companies to speed up domestic exploration or lose their leases.
The two-thirds majority was needed to prevent that bill from being amended with the GOP measure lifting the drilling moratorium, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi adamantly opposes. But there are likely enough other Democrats in the House who would back such a measure if it came to a vote for it to pass, which is why Pelosi won't let that vote happen.
AMOS: All right, two final questions: Will any of this pass? And perhaps the one that's the most important for Americans is, does it lead to lower gas prices?
WELNA: Well, I'm afraid both sides think they've got a winning issue here to run on this fall. Republicans seem confident that voters are more inclined to support their emphasis on boosting domestic oil production. Democrats, on the other hand, are counting on voters wanting action with more immediate consequences, such as reining in speculators or releasing some of the strategic petroleum reserves into the market.
That could have a short-term impact on oil prices, but it's not at all clear that Congress will agree on any of this. So I don't know if we will see any impact on the market.
AMOS: So the answer's no. NPR's congressional correspondent, David Welna. Thanks very much.
WELNA: You're quite welcome.
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