Lawmakers Press Bush to Tap Petroleum Reserve When gas prices go up, Congress tries to do what it can to make them go back down. The Senate votes Tuesday on two measures. Proposals from Democrats and Republicans would stop the federal government's practice of adding 70,000 barrels of oil a day to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
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Lawmakers Press Bush to Tap Petroleum Reserve

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Lawmakers Press Bush to Tap Petroleum Reserve

Lawmakers Press Bush to Tap Petroleum Reserve

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

As gasoline prices go up and Election Day comes closer, Democrats and Republican on Capitol Hill are scrambling to do something. The idea is to be seen as both caring and responsive, so today the Senate votes on two plans to push down gas prices. By the way, the Senate is also getting into recycling today, because both these plans are mostly recycled versions of proposals that have gone nowhere in the past.

NPR's David Welna has more.

DAVID WELNA: Congressional Republicans are calling the jump in gas prices the Pelosi premium. That's the amount those prices have risen since Democrat Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House early last year.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid likes to remind anyone who will listen that when President Bush took office in 2001, gas was going for $1.50 a gallon.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): Seven years ago, Vice President Cheney invited oil executives to the White House to write our national energy policy. Some policy it's turned out to be. Is it any surprise that seven years later, the only one's who've benefited from that policy are the oil companies?

WELNA: Reid spoke yesterday on the Senate floor. He was soon followed by the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, Jeff Bingaman, who sounded as if he'd had it with the gas price blame game.

Senator JEFF BINGAMAN (Democrat, New Mexico): We should be honest with the American people about this so-called debate on high gas prices. This is an election year effort. This is election year politics in its classic form. It is Washington finger pointing. Unfortunately, there's - it is very little else.

WELNA: Still, last week, Senate Democrats rolled out an energy bill taking aim at the oil companies, OPEC and speculators. But the bill was unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster, so just one provision from it is being voted on today.

Senator BYRON DORGAN (Democrat, North Dakota): Stop putting oil underground, and stop it now.

WELNA: That's North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan. His measure blocks the federal government's practice of adding 70,000 barrels of oil a day to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The ban on filling the reserve, which is now 97 percent full, would remain in effect until the end of the year, or sooner should the price of oil drop to $75 a barrel.

The point, Dorgan says, is to increase supply and push down gas prices by not stockpiling oil that's at record high prices.

Sen. DORGAN: It'd be great if we could move at lightning speed here and stop doing something that is just fundamentally dumb on its face.

WELNA: But two weeks ago at a White House news conference, President Bush vowed he'd keep filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He said not doing so could deprive the nation of a crucial buffer against possible disruptions in the supply of oil.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: And if I thought it would affect the price of oil positively, I'd seriously consider it. But when you're talking about one-tenth of 1 percent of global demand, I think the, you know, I think if you've done a cost benefit analysis, I don't think you get any benefits from making the decision. I do think it'd cost you, you know, oil in the case of a national security risk.

WELNA: The idea of putting a hold on filling the oil reserve is backed not only by Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but also by the presumed Republican nominee, John McCain. That's forced McCain's GOP senate colleagues to choose between him and the lame duck president on the issue, and most have sided with McCain.

Here's Texas Senator John Cornyn, one of President Bush's closest allies.

Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): I think there may be a case for reducing or eliminating the 70,000 barrels of oil a day to go into this Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

WELNA: Senate Republicans, in fact, include suspending the filling of the oil reserve in the energy bill that they rolled out last week. The rest of their bill, which is also being voted on today, is mainly proposals Republicans failed to pass, even when they controlled Congress, such as drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate has a clear choice to make today.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): It's a fundamental difference of opinion. We can either proactively increase our domestic production, or we can place greater dependence on foreign suppliers and further delay energy independence.

WELNA: The GOP energy bill is not expected to pass, and while many Republicans say they back suspending the filling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, it's not clear how many of them will actually vote with Democrats to do so.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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