Congress deadlocked over offshore drilling
The GOP blocked three energy bills last week to force Democrats to lift a drilling ban.
As Congress heads into its last week before August recess and political conventions, there's one big item on the must-do list: Action to ease energy costs for American families.Skip to next paragraph
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With a gallon of gas hovering at $4, energy prices are the No. 1 issue on voters' minds. But congressional leaders are increasingly deadlocked over what to do. In response, frustrated rank-and-file members on both sides of the aisle are stepping up efforts to find common ground.
Last week, Republicans blocked three Democratic bills in as many days: On Thursday, the House rejected a measure that would have released about 70 million barrels of oil from the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve. On Friday, Senate Republicans blocked a move that would have led to a vote on a bill to stop excessive speculation in energy markets. On Saturday, the GOP minority again opposed taking up a $5.1 billion Senate measure to help low-income Americans pay utility bills this year.
All three measures foundered on the same issue: a congressional ban on drilling in protected offshore areas.
Republicans are eager to lift the ban and promote more drilling. It's one of only a few GOP issues that appears to be gaining widespread support among voters in an otherwise bleak campaign season. "For the first time in two years, our side thinks we're on the winning side of a major issue," says Rep. Tom Cole (R) of Oklahoma, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But for Democratic leaders, the issue is politically toxic. Senate and House Democrats in hard-hit states, such as Michigan and Ohio, want to lift the ban. Those representing coastal districts generally oppose it. So does the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.
President Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore exploration on the outer continental shelf on July 14 and challenged Congress to lift its own ban. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will not allow a floor vote on offshore drilling.
"What the president would like to do is to have validation for his failed policy. I'm saying that that's not something that will come easily to him," she said in a press briefing on Thursday. She says that the White House and oil companies must first "exhaust other remedies," including drilling onshore in the 68 million acres already open to exploration and drilling.