Bipartisan Energy Group Taking No Names

Posted July 14, 2008 at 3:40pm

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is meeting Monday night to see if they can agree on solutions to lowering gas prices, but sources say organizers don’t want names of attendees released in advance in case some Members want out of the group.

The working group, organized by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and John Peterson (R-Pa.), consists of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans who are united on the issue of new drilling, among other approaches, in response to escalating gas costs.

The group is expected to make its debut on Tuesday, but a GOP aide said Peterson requested that no names of attendees be released until then in case “some Members can’t agree on how we move forward with this. We don’t want to put them in the position where they can’t explain” why they were part of the meeting.

“We have to give a little bit, they have to give a little bit,” said the aide. “We’re not going to come out of this like Kumbaya.”

The group’s efforts are a direct challenge to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has described what have been largely Republican calls to open up new areas to drilling as “a hoax.”

Asked if lawmakers may opt out of the group on Monday if they don’t like the direction of discussions, the aide said, “We’ll see. Once [Abercrombie and Peterson] lay out ideas for this group, some Members may buy in, some may not.”

Either way, Members attending the meeting make up a diverse group of coastal and inland, conservative and moderate Democrats and Republicans, said the aide.

Among those expected to attend the meeting are Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

The aide said no leadership will be in the meeting and there will be “no outside involvement.”

Abercrombie spokesman Dave Helfert said he didn’t know who would attend since it is an organizational meeting.

The point of the group, Helfert said, is to try to find enough common ground to move something through Congress before adjourning for the year. Members from both parties “have said their respective leadership are sort of dug in political positions and not much is getting done.”

The goal is not “to poke a finger in the eye of the Speaker, certainly. Or for Mr. Peterson to do that with [House Minority] Leader Boehner. We’re not trying to pick fights with our leadership,” Helfert said.

Still, he conceded, “That isn’t the intent. That may be the effect.”

The group will try to put together a package of bills that address short-term, mid-term and long-term energy needs, Helfert said.

Helfert clarified that while Abercrombie has sponsored legislation in support of drilling for natural gas in the Outer Continental Shelf, he has not endorsed new oil drilling.

But if a majority of Republicans and Democrats are in favor of drilling for oil in the OCS, Abercrombie would support putting that into the group’s package. “Everything is on the table,” Helfert said.