Democrats Still Without an Energy Bill

Posted September 9, 2008 at 3:40pm

Still unable to produce an energy package, House Democratic leaders emerged from a Caucus meeting Tuesday with plans for more meetings.

Democrats arrived 45 minutes late to a news conference because of disagreements over policy approaches. The news conference was called to discuss progress on the long-awaited package; Democratic leaders instead rehashed previous statements about the likely contents of the bill.

During the Caucus meeting, Members accepted the bill’s drilling provisions “as a matter of fact,” but some wanted to go further and include other energy sources, such as coal and nuclear energy, according to a senior Democratic aide. Others wanted to scale back oil drilling provisions.

Many lawmakers took the approach that the proposal “is a good bill, but I have a couple of ideas,” the aide said.

House GOP leaders were quick to call out Democrats for failing to produce their energy proposal.

“While the majority still doesn’t seem to actually have a bill drafted, they do seem more than willing to showcase their approach to America’s energy: perversely increasing energy costs for some, while permanently locking up most offshore resources for all,” said Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

Democratic leaders will hammer away at the message this week that their bill represents not only a vote for new offshore drilling but for cutting subsidies to oil companies. “If we’re having drilling, we’re going after Big Oil,” the aide said. “That’s the message.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emphasized that point, asking: “Whose side are you on? Consumers or Big Oil?”

If there’s going to be expanded offshore drilling, there will be “a change in the relationship” between oil company subsidies and drilling, Pelosi said. A vote against the Democratic bill, she said, means saying, “I’m for drilling, I’m for Big Oil and I don’t want to revisit this relationship.”

The Speaker denied that she has changed her position on drilling, saying that her view has always been that lawmakers must do “what is fair to the American people. What [Republicans] were contending was not.”

Democrats are aiming to have their bill before the Rules Committee on Wednesday night and on the floor Thursday. The bill will be introduced by Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Gene Green (Texas). Green, an oil-patch Democrat, could be an asset to helping win over moderates.

The aide said there were “some concerns” expressed in the Caucus meeting about gains Republicans made on the energy front over the August recess.