Anyone looking to Congress for help in lowering gas prices may have to wait awhile.
With prices at the pump surging over $4 a gallon, the House and Senate could hardly be further apart on what to do, even though both are spending this week on energy bills ostensibly designed to address the issue.
Instead, House Republicans and Senate Democrats are pushing political messaging bills that aren’t likely to go anywhere in the other chamber anytime soon.
The showdown over energy appears par for the course as both chambers find themselves similarly at odds over almost every major issue facing Congress, including a must-pass debt limit increase, the budget and immigration.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced he would bring up legislation to eliminate oil company tax breaks and use the savings to cut the deficit by $21 billion over the coming decade. Democrats hope the idea will be a political two-fer — it lets them beat up on the five Big Oil companies that are seeing enormous profits this year and attempt to put Republicans on the defense for their plans to overhaul Medicare as a way of balancing the budget.
“Seniors are struggling, oil companies are not struggling, yet Republicans want to keep handing billions of dollars to the oil companies and ending Medicare as we know it,” Reid said Tuesday. “It’s hard to imagine a more backward set of values. Putting seniors ahead of oil companies should be a no-brainer.”
But with opposition from most Republicans and some oil-state Democrats, the idea probably isn’t going to get out of the Senate, let alone become law. House Republicans are passing bills intended to allow more drilling, arguing that the Senate Democratic plan would amount to a tax increase on oil companies and consumers.
“Our legislation will increase the supply of American energy to cut costs for consumers and create jobs,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “Democrats are pushing bills to raise taxes — which will increase prices at the pump and destroy American jobs. Our policies make sense, theirs are downright batty.”
Boehner indicated during an ABC News interview last month that a review of oil tax subsidies is “certainly something we should be looking at.” But asked Tuesday whether the Speaker would support the Senate Democrats’ plan, Steel said: “He supports looking at any option to lower gas prices. Unfortunately, the Senate’s tax hike would raise gas prices.”
Josh Freed of Third Way quipped that the two chambers resemble “a married couple with irreconcilable differences.”
“They’re stuck with each other, but on any given day you’re not even certain they’re talking, let alone seeing anything in the same context whatsoever,” he said.
Freed, who directs Third Way’s clean energy program, said neither approach would give consumers immediate relief. He maintained that oil exploration has increased under President Barack Obama and that, ultimately, the issue is one of demand.
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