Energy Deal Collapses Over Demands on GOP

Posted July 30, 2008 at 6:02pm

Senate Democrats and Republicans deadlocked again Wednesday on legislation that aims at high gas prices, and it appears likely that the chamber will leave town Friday for the August recess without having dealt with what both parties call the No. 1 issue facing voters.

To break the logjam on a bill to clamp down on the oil futures market, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was prepared to accept Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) Monday offer to vote on four GOP amendments intended to increase domestic oil production.

“I’ve been told this morning that offer is no longer out there,” McConnell said. “If that’s true, it means there’s no way to legislate on the No. 1 issue in America today.”

Democrats rejected McConnell’s overture, saying there would be no deal on amendments until Republicans ended their filibuster of a tax-extender bill. Republicans renewed their months-long filibuster of the Democratic-sponsored bill on Wednesday. A bid to break that filibuster lost 51-43. Sixty votes were needed.

“Sen. Reid has made it very clear that the Senate would have to address the tax- extenders bill as well. We went out of our way to address their concerns [on tax extenders] … yet they voted it down. We are done negotiating with ourselves,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. “Their overtures about a ‘deal’ are disingenuous at best. The fact is, they are continuing to do whatever they can to protect Big Oil instead of addressing record high energy prices hurting ordinary Americans.”

Republicans said Reid could not take yes for an answer and was trying to avoid politically difficult votes on oil drilling amendments.

“What he’s doing is he’s changing the game,” Chief Deputy Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “Pulling back on the four amendments, that’s pretty bizarre. … So, I think what it says is that at this point they see more political advantage in not having a solution and trying to go home and blame Republicans than in actually trying to work with us to get something.”

On Monday, it appeared there was a chance for an energy deal when Reid on the floor offered Republicans four amendment votes on the oil speculation measure. McConnell reacted favorably but asked for time to consult with his Conference. When McConnell had not returned with a counterproposal of some kind by Tuesday afternoon, Reid told reporters he would not agree to an amendment deal on oil speculation unless Republicans also abandoned their filibuster of the tax extenders bill. The tax measure has been hung up over Republican objections to offsetting the cost of extending several expiring tax credits.

Without a deal on the oil speculation bill, Republicans blocked any other legislation from coming to the floor on Wednesday. In addition to voting down the tax extenders bill, Republicans filibustered, 51-43, a bill intended to shield journalists from some subpoenas.

Reid said he would set up a vote, possibly for Friday morning, on whether to begin consideration of the defense authorization bill. Previously, Republicans had said they would block that measure to keep the Senate’s focus on gas prices.

Senate Democratic aides, however, said there might be bipartisan deals to pass conference reports on consumer product safety and higher education, given that high-ranking Republicans negotiated those bills. One senior Senate Democratic aide said leaders were aiming to secure short time agreements for debate, quickly followed by passage.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House limped toward the recess with yet another energy bill — this one on regulating speculators — falling short of the two-thirds required for bills on the suspension calendar. Republicans continued to rally their troops to blame Democrats for proposing bills that they labeled “excuses” for the majority to avoid votes on oil drilling.

Democratic leaders also barely managed to muster the votes for the August adjournment resolution, 213-212, after 16 Democrats voted with Republicans against going home. Republicans had billed the vote as an energy vote, given that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continues to block votes on expanding acres available for drilling.

The siege on Democratic leaders over the issue also grew more complicated when a bipartisan group led by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and John Peterson (R-Pa.) unveiled their energy package that would eliminate the offshore-drilling ban and use an estimated $2.6 trillion in lease revenue in the coming decades to fuel renewable energy, carbon-capture technology and state and federal budgets. States would have the opportunity to opt out of the first 50 miles from their shores, and the ban would stay in place for the first 25 miles — far enough that beachgoers would not be able to see drilling platforms.

Abercrombie called on House leadership to allow a vote on the energy package and said he would not vote for a continuing resolution keeping the offshore drilling ban in place unless Pelosi allows a vote on drilling.

Pelosi showed no signs of buckling, calling another push by President Bush for expanded offshore drilling to lower gas prices a “hoax” that “is not worthy of the serious debate we must have to relieve the pain of consumers at the pump.”