GOP Changes Tack in Energy Debate

Posted September 17, 2008 at 6:18pm

A day after Democratic leaders passed an energy package along mostly party lines, House GOP leaders on Wednesday were rallying behind a separate, bipartisan energy bill that they say should serve as the foundation for an economic stimulus package.

Democrats might take up a stimulus bill as soon as this week, and Republicans are calling on the majority to begin with an energy proposal put forward by Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and John Peterson (R-Pa.).

“I can’t think of any better stimulus bill than to pass a bipartisan energy bill that would in fact create a million new jobs, would in fact lower gas prices, lower energy prices, help our manufacturers all around the country, and a bill that the American people desperately want,” Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam (Fla.) said the Abercrombie-Peterson proposal was the “best stimulus package we can put together.”

Rallying behind the bipartisan bill is a shift in strategy for GOP leaders, who until now have been pushing their own energy plan with more extensive drilling provisions. During Tuesday’s debate on the Democratic energy bill, Republicans used a procedural motion to force a vote on the Abercrombie-Peterson bill, but it failed.

“We’re not going away” on the energy issue, Boehner said. “If we really want to help the American people, help create jobs in our country, why not pass a bipartisan bill that will in fact do that?”

A House Democratic leadership aide said it was obviously time for a shift in the Republican energy strategy.

“Clearly, the strategy to cast their leadership bill as ‘drill only’ worked, and now they’ve had to change tactics. Picking up a bill that failed yesterday as a motion to recommit may not be the easiest thing for them to engage the public on since the bill had an opportunity for a vote and failed,” the aide said.

In related news, Republicans on Wednesday also announced findings from a GOP survey that factors school energy costs into their argument for revisiting the Abercrombie-Peterson bill.

Republicans launched an online survey in July that has since polled some 1,000 education officials and parents about the impact of energy costs on schools. GOP say nearly half of the respondents said high fuel costs forced their schools to cut field trips and after-school activities. One-third of respondents said high fuel costs forced schools to limit bus routes. And nearly one-fourth of respondents said high gas prices led to higher school lunch prices.

GOP leaders are concluding that, unlike the Democratic energy bill, the Abercrombie-Peterson proposal would help schools because it would allow states to use revenue generated from offshore drilling to offset school energy costs.

Boehner asked: “With our schools cutting back on bus routes, canceling field trips and contemplating shorter school weeks, is this the type of leadership the American people deserve from their representatives in Congress?”