Energy Takes Center Stage On Capitol Hill After testing out their energy slogans over the August break, legislators are back in Washington. Can a compromise involving some drilling and some alternative energy survive the election season?
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Energy Takes Center Stage On Capitol Hill

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Energy Takes Center Stage On Capitol Hill

Energy Takes Center Stage On Capitol Hill

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This is All Things Considered from NPR News, I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. The House and Senate are back after a five-week break, and they're back at it. Both chambers are squabbling over how to bring down energy prices. House Democrats announced today that they'll roll out new energy legislation later this week, but they were short on specifics. And there is growing concern that an impasse over offshore oil drilling could lead to a government shutdown by the end of the month. NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Republicans calling for more oil drilling held ad hoc sessions throughout the August recess in a darkened House chamber watched only by the tourists inside. Today, those Republicans had both lights and TV cameras trained on them, and they continue to demand an up or down vote on lifting a 26-year moratorium on drilling the United States' Outer Continental Shelf. Indiana's Mike Pence appealed directly to the chamber's top Democrat.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): 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.

WELNA: A short time 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.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; House Speaker): Republicans must set aside their drill only. Even their own supporters have said we cannot drill ourselves out of this emergency situation. And it will come down to this. It will come down to this when it comes to energy. Whose side are you on, the side of the American consumer and the tax payer, or big oil?

WELNA: Pelosi said House Democrats do want to expand domestic energy production as well as ferment 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 remains a work in progress. Pelosi was vague when asked just where the Democrats might allow more domestic oil drilling.

Representative PELOSI: We are working with our colleagues on that subject right now in terms of where, but certainly - at least where the Senate language that you have seen - in the Southeast. And we'll see beyond that.

WELNA: The Senate language the House Speaker referred to was put forward by a bipartisan group calling itself the Gang of 10 early last month. It would 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. And today, Roy Blunt, the number two House Republican, 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 Rahm Emanuel, a member of the House Democratic leadership.

Representative RAHM EMANUEL (Democrat, Illinois): 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.

WELNA: Still, Republicans today appeared dead set against allowing any extension in a big spending bill of the drilling moratorium. Here's the Senate's number two Republican, John Kyl.

Senator JOHN KYL (Republican, Arizona): One of the things that somebody is going to try to do is attach a writer to that appropriation bill, maybe in the middle of the night, I don't know. But it's going to be to continue a moratorium on offshore drilling. Mark my word, somebody is going to try to do that. We cannot allow that to happen.

WELNA: Democrats hope the drilling measures they've proposed will be enough to get Republicans to back down. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out, the GOP was behind the last government shutdown in 1995.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): 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.

WELNA: The Senate plans to take up energy legislation next week. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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