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.
“I think voters at this point are so frustrated with this debate replaying and replaying, there is some question as to how much traction any of this is having back at home,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who in the past has tried to forge bipartisan energy deals, said both sides at this point are just pushing their favorite proposals instead of working on a larger package that could become law.
“They want to beat on oil companies, we want to drill. I want a rational energy policy and you can beat on energy companies a little bit, drill a little bit, that’s OK by me,” he said.
Graham said that it’s hard to justify subsidies with oil at more than $100 a barrel but that he doesn’t plan to support the Democratic plan to eliminate them unless it’s part of a larger package.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said he doesn’t see a bipartisan compromise in the works: “not as long as the administration wants to raise taxes on producers, which only disadvantages domestic production. ... I don’t know what you do with people who deny the applicability of the law of supply and demand.”
About the only thing kicking around with a bipartisan push is an effort to crack down on speculators in oil markets. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) are among those working to rein in stock market speculators, who, the Senators contend, have helped drive up the price of oil.
Other ideas that have at least some bipartisan support include pushing natural gas and electric vehicles, but those initiatives would likely take years to make much of a dent in demand.
“I think what will lower gasoline prices is when Americans can purchase vehicles that run on natural gas or electricity,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who noted that natural gas vehicles can fill up at a cost of about $2 a gallon. “You’ve got to empower the consumer.”
One other idea that has traction among Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), is tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower prices.
But Republicans — and Obama — have resisted that idea as well.
“That doesn’t address the problem,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in an interview Tuesday. The reserve “is there for national disasters like Katrina where you have a short-term limit of supply. Our problem is a long-term limit of supply because of the administration’s policies.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.