House CR Will Allow Drilling Ban to Expire

Posted September 23, 2008 at 6:07pm

The House on Wednesday is scheduled to take up a relatively clean continuing resolution that would fund the government through March 2009, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said on Tuesday.

But the bill will not include contentious offshore drilling language, after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) conceded that House Democrats would be unable to keep in place restrictions on offshore drilling that are set to expire Sept. 30 in the face of stiff opposition from Republicans and President Bush.

Obey said the White House warned that inclusion of this item in the CR would be “an absolute nonstarter.”

“This means at least temporarily, the moratorium is lifted,” Obey said.

“Chairman Obey negotiated the best package he could get with the White House to take a budget standoff off the table so we can address the larger Bush financial crisis,” said Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman. “The White House made it clear any new drilling provision was a nonstarter. The future resolution of offshore drilling will have to be addressed with a new president.”

Republicans were ecstatic.

“If true, this capitulation by Democrats following months of Republican pressure is a big victory for Americans struggling with record gasoline prices,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

The CR will fund most of the government at fiscal 2008 levels — but will roll in three fiscal 2009 spending bills for Homeland Security, Defense and military construction/Veterans Affairs. The measure carries a total price tag of more than $600 billion.

Obey said the CR will carry close to 100 extensions of expiring authorizations. This language “has all been worked out” with Republicans, he said.

Other items in the CR include more than $23 billion for disaster relief, $600 million for a Social Services block grant, $25 billion for loans to the auto industry, $2 billion for Pell Grants and $5.2 billion for low-income heating assistance.

Democrats had to give up their effort to insert other items such as food stamps, unemployment insurance and state Medicaid assistance. These items were also declared nonstarters by the White House and will appear in a separate stimulus package, Obey said.

If Republicans choose to vote against those items in the stimulus package, “Be my guest,” he said.

Democrats hope that subtraction of their offshore drilling language will persuade the White House to sign a long-term CR and eliminate the need for a lame-duck session in November.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) discussed his plans for the remaining days of the session, as he tries to pave the way forward on the emergency financial bailout legislation.

Speaking before the final vote on the tax-extenders bill, Reid said he would try to move toward the CR as soon as Wednesday, and also to a second economic stimulus bill.

Reid was less definitive on the timing for the financial bailout bill, saying that he would try to balance swift action with ensuring that all concerns are addressed before passage.

“A lot depends on what we do, and we have to do it right. Maybe we can do both — do it fast and do it right,” Reid said.

A top Democratic aide said the Senate is likely to work into the weekend as lawmakers grapple with the economic recovery bill.

The aide was unsure whether Members would come back next week.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.