GOP Says Protests Moved Energy Debate

Posted September 8, 2008 at 12:47pm

Bringing their monthlong energy protest to a close, House Republican leaders will spend Monday congratulating themselves for what they say has been a successful campaign aimed at swaying public opinion on offshore oil drilling.

And in a more significant development in the otherwise stalled energy debate, Democratic and Republican leaders appear to warming to a bipartisan energy bill crafted specifically without input from either party’s leadership.

Aides say GOP leaders will declare at a Monday press event that they successfully pressured Democrats to back new domestic drilling, though top Democrats still are not budging in allowing an up-or-down vote on the issue.

The daily protests largely consisted of a handful of Republicans giving speeches in a darkened and off-air House chamber. Still, those efforts have made Democrats “increasingly aware that they are between a rock and a hard place on this issue,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

There have been “increasingly frantic efforts from Democratic leaders to craft a proposal that would look like it increased the supply of American energy without offending environmental allies,” Steel said. “I imagine we’ll see more of that.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has signaled that a forthcoming Democratic package will include limited offshore drilling. But Steel said Republican leaders won’t go for that because “the American people don’t want a half-measure.”

In what appears to be a shift in the rhetoric of both party’s leaders, Pelosi and Boehner are considering the ideas contained in a the bill that surfaced outside of leadership.

That bill, authored by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and John Peterson (R-Pa.), has more than 130 co-sponsors, including nearly 100 Republicans. Their proposal calls for lifting the ban on offshore drilling but not expanding to new Arctic drilling; it would then tie drilling royalties to investments in renewable energy.

“We support Abercrombie/Peterson,” Steel said. “And would vote for it, but we think we need to do more, too.”

An Abercrombie spokesman said this was the first he had ever heard of the GOP leader lending support to their proposal.

“Holy crap,” the spokesman said. “I thought they wanted ‘drill everywhere, drill now, drill this second, drill baby drill.’”

Still, he continued, it’s not surprising that either party leader would warm up to their bill because “it is, in fact, genuinely bipartisan. It was written by as many Republicans as Democrats. … For Mr. Boehner to indicate his support for the bill, he’s welcome to support it and we’re glad to have him.”

The Abercrombie spokesman also noted that a Saturday radio address by House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson (Conn.) was the first time he had ever heard Democratic leaders lending support to the funding mechanism proposed by the bipartisan group.

During the radio address, Larson said Democrats are preparing to unveil a comprehensive energy package that will invest royalties from drilling into alternative energy technology.

“That basically captures what our bill is,” Abercrombie’s spokesman said. Until now, “what the Speaker has been talking about just relies on the repeal of some of the tax breaks for oil companies and letting some other ones expires, and using those revenues instead.”

A Pelosi spokesman could not be reached for comment.