Congress Uses Summer Break to Debate Oil -WSJ article

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    Congress Uses Summer Break To Debate Oil - WSJ.com

    Congress Uses
    Summer Break
    To Debate Oil
    By SARAH LUECK, JOHN D. MCKINNON and STEPHEN POWER
    August 1, 2008; Page A3

    As Congress begins a five-week break without passing legislation to address high gasoline prices, Democrats and Republicans are fighting for the political high ground in the energy debate.


    In a flurry of ads and on the campaign trail, Republicans are pounding Democrats for failing to allow votes on lifting a federal ban on oil and gas drilling in offshore areas to boost domestic production. Democrats are accusing Republicans of blocking renewable-energy initiatives and protecting wealthy oil companies at consumers' expense.

    On Thursday, House and Senate Democrats held a press conference to highlight oil companies' record profits. The Senate Democrats' campaign arm also unveiled a Web site detailing campaign contributions from energy companies to Republican senators in competitive races. A number of Democrats who are trying to unseat Republican senators are running television ads on the same theme.

    "I think we need a senator in New Hampshire who's going to represent families in New Hampshire, not oil companies," said former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who is challenging Sen. John Sununu. With public opinion shifting in favor of increased domestic drilling, however, Mr. Sununu has gained some momentum by criticizing her opposition to new drilling.

    The House Republican Conference is advising lawmakers on how to make the most of an energy message. A new packet of recess materials suggests that lawmakers hold news conferences with local police and fire officials to discuss how gas prices are affecting their operations. The packets include talking points, such as this one: "Explain that only Democrats stand in the way of relief at the pump."

    Democratic strategists, meanwhile, are advising their party's House candidates to emphasize the proposals they support: tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, clamping down on oil speculation and requiring oil firms to drill on land that has already been leased.

    The debate shows how Congress, as it moves closer to Election Day, is focusing more on political fights than legislating. The energy debate is expected to continue when lawmakers return in September. But there will be other pressing matters to attend to, including a resolution to keep the government funded at least through the elections and tax bills to address the spread of the alternative minimum tax.

    While Republicans and their allies were signaling that they will keep hitting the energy theme during the August break, some conservatives were talking about pushing Democrats to the wall on lifting the offshore-drilling moratorium.

    "It seems to me that politically, it would be a winner for conservatives to fight on drilling, up to and including a government shutdown," said Ed Patru of the conservative advocacy group Freedom's Watch.

    On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged differences among Democrats over oil drilling, as a growing number of Democrats join Republicans to push for relaxing the drilling ban. But she seemed unlikely to allow a vote on lifting the ban on offshore drilling, as President George W. Bush has advocated.

    Defenders of the moratorium point to a 2007 analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that lifting the ban "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030." Mr. Bush's supporters argue it could ease gasoline prices in the short term by signaling to commodity-futures traders that the U.S. is intent on boosting supply.

    Mr. Bush Thursday raised a new theme Republicans are likely to return to frequently: the huge amounts of money Americans are sending overseas for oil.

    "I'd rather be buying our oil from U.S. producers than sending our money overseas," Mr. Bush said. "And there's a lot of frustration building up. People are looking at Washington to actually do something constructive and yet we can't get any votes on some practical solutions."
     

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