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Entering a crucial stretch for the student loan debate and transportation reauthorization conference committee, House negotiators will continue churning away this week while the floor debate will be dominated by election-year energy messaging.
House Republicans are bringing a series of bills to the floor that concern energy production and gas prices in an attempt to make President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats look ineffectual on energy policy.
“We’re going to push this now. The Senate has been able to just stay quiet on so many of our bills,” House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on a conference call with reporters last week. “We’re going to push very hard. We’ve got friends in the Senate who we think can push as well to try to make the point.”
Included in the package is legislation that aims to ease regulations of domestic energy production, especially oil drilling on federal lands.
Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, speaking on the same conference call, said he hopes to slam the president on comments he made about expanding energy production on federal lands because “his actions are 180 degrees from the rhetoric.”
“This administration has clearly gone against coal, gone against oil and natural gas … trying to promote their green energy policy, and that hasn’t worked,” the Washington Republican said. “We think our approach is better. Let the market decide.”
House Democrats, meanwhile, seem unfazed by the flurry of energy bills. One House Democratic leadership aide described the floor action as “simply messaging bills” and said the Caucus intends to keep its eye on the transportation conference committee.
“They claim these energy bills are jobs bills. If they were really serious about jobs bills, they’d get on this transportation bill immediately. It’s really unconscionable,” the aide said.
House Republican leaders are still holding out hope that House and Senate negotiators can work out an agreement on a long-term extension of highway and transit spending authority or at the very least make enough progress to justify a short-term extension.
Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) has said he does not want to see a one- or two-month extension of the law and instead favors a six-month extension, which would kick the issue into the already crowded lame-duck session.
That could change if House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) can show they are closing in on a deal.
But with both sides seemingly digging in over the biggest hurdles — including language expediting the Keystone XL oil pipeline — and taking to theatrics to make their points, most agree that hopes for a deal are quickly fading.