House Pushes Pelosi Drilling Changes

Posted September 22, 2008 at 6:59pm

As they tried to sort through a historic Wall Street meltdown, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate were close Monday evening to signing off on a continuing resolution that would include funding for the federal government through March 6 and changes to the coastal drilling moratorium backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Democrats said.

At press time, House Democratic leaders were meeting to discuss how to move forward on a long-term CR, and Democratic aides said Pelosi could have the package in the Rules Committee before the end of the night.

House Democrats on Monday circulated a discussion draft that would keep the government funded through March 6, meaning lawmakers would not have to return to town this year for a lame-duck session to hammer out another bill, according to a copy of the draft.

The measure would also include the 2009 appropriation bills for national security operations by including the Defense, Homeland Security, and military construction-Veterans Affairs spending bills in the CR.

And it would take care of at least one Democratic priority that the party would otherwise try to tackle in a separate economic stimulus bill by providing $5.1 billion in assistance in energy costs for the poor.

Significantly, the bill includes parts of the energy legislation that the House passed last week dealing with a federal offshore oil drilling ban. Although it would not lift the ban — a key demand of Republicans — it would authorize drilling in certain areas 50 miles from the coast. That is an improvement, in Pelosi’s eyes, over lifting the moratorium completely, in which case drilling could take place as close as three miles offshore.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other lawmakers appeared close to backing a CR with the same basic outlines as the House bill.

One source familiar with the talks said there appears to be agreement at the staff level to include the House’s oil drilling provisions, although Members had not yet signed off on that and no final decisions on recommendations had been made.

Likewise, a Senate Democratic aide said it appeared Reid and Pelosi were making a serious push to wrap up the 110th Congress this week rather than allow it to linger into the fall. “They are doing whatever is necessary to get out of here till March,” the aide said.

While Reid is still working out the details of the Senate version and has yet to float a proposal to his Republican counterparts, the House discussion draft’s energy provisions raised GOP hackles in that chamber.

“By moving to essentially keep these bans in place, Speaker Pelosi and her Democratic allies are blocking increased energy production that the American people support to reduce fuel costs — and are standing in the way of the new jobs and economic growth that would be triggered if the bans were lifted,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Democrats were abusing the process in order to sneak their energy legislation into law on a must-pass measure. “At a time when Americans are struggling with soaring fuel costs — and are about to struggle with soaring electricity rates —the decision by Democrats to jam through a sham energy bill that could never become law on its own says an awful lot about where their priorities lie,” he said in a statement.

A Senate GOP aide, who had not seen the details of either chamber’s bill, said that while the proposal is unlikely to find significant support amongst Republicans, party leaders may end up letting the bill through in order to allow vulnerable Members to return to the campaign trail.

With Democratic leaders simultaneously trying to craft a Wall Street bailout and a stimulus package in an extraordinarily compressed time frame, one Democratic House aide said leaders appear to be seeking to avoid any firefights that could derail a quick deal. “Time is short, and we need to get out of here. We’re not interested in a political debate. Pretty much everything is open until we figure it out,” this aide said.

“We need to get something passed in the House and the Senate in five days, so we can’t dink around with little fights,” the aide added.

Less predictable is the White House response to the bill. The Bush administration has indicated President Bush would veto a CR that lasts until March.

Republicans have said the White House would like to use a lame-duck session — and the threat of a prolonged fight over funding issues during the fall — as leverage to force Democrats to pass several trade bills.

But Democrats on Monday made clear that with the financial crisis blowing up in Bush’s face and Republicans not standing lock step with the president, they expect the administration to agree to some trade-offs if the White House wants to see its bail out enacted.

“We are being asked to do some rather extraordinary things. There’s gonna have to be some trade-offs,” one aide said.