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KENTUCKYREDBONE
04-23-2011, 08:58 PM
GOP to make hay in May over gas
By: Darren Goode
April 22, 2011 04:47 PM EDT

Republicans are getting ready to capitalize on record prices at the pump with a May focus on oil and gasoline.

The government shutdown battle put the issue on the back burner even though prices at the pump have been rising steadily since February. Now, with President Barack Obama already on the defensive, the GOP is ready to pounce.

House Republicans are planning bill introductions, hearings, markups and floor votes on legislation aimed at expanding domestic oil production in response to high gasoline prices.

The plain truth that there is realistically nothing Congress can do in the short- or mid-term to affect gas prices that won’t get in the way of both parties trying to score political points by complaining the other is not addressing the problem.

"The White House and the rest of the Democrats who run Washington are terrified about the political impact of gas prices, because many of their policies — like the national energy tax — are explicitly designed to raise energy prices,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

Obama on Thursday pointed to high gasoline prices for his sagging poll numbers. "My poll numbers go up and down depending on the latest crisis, and right now gas prices are weighing heavily on people," he said at a Los Angeles fundraiser.

The latest Gallup tracking poll gives the president a 43 percent approval rating and a 49 percent disapproval rating. A divided Congress fares far worse — a 17 percent approval rating that is identical to right after last November’s midterm election.

The average price for a gallon of unleaded is $3.85, up 98 cents from a year ago and more than 30 cents higher than it was in early April 2008 before prices averaged a record of $4.11 a gallon in July that year.

Prices are already higher in some areas of the country. AAA reports that California, Illinois and New York have average prices of more than $4, and White House pool reporters have noted Obama’s motorcade passed Los Angeles gas stations with prices of $4.35 per gallon.

In 2008, $4 gasoline led to House Republicans resorting to floor theatrics to draw attention to their calls for new oil exploration, followed by the famed “drill, baby, drill” chants at the Republican National Convention that September. Now, the GOP controls the floor agenda and plans to use it when they get back from the two-week spring recess.

“I can promise that we are going to be very active,” said a House majority aide.

In March, House Republicans unveiled their “American Energy Initiative,” a broad pledge to “stop government policies that are driving up gas prices; expand American energy production to lower costs and create more jobs; and promote an ‘all of the above’ strategy to increase all forms of American energy.”

As part of that strategy, House Natural Resources Committee Republicans last week passed three bills aimed at expanding and expediting offshore oil and gas drilling. A spokesman for Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said he expects at least one of those bills to be on the floor the first week back from recess.

That first bill is likely to be one that gives the Interior Department 30 days to make a decision on offshore drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico, allowing for two 15-day extensions of permits that were not already approved before the Obama administration’s drilling moratorium installed after the BP oil spill last year.

The bill gives Republicans — and some Democrats — a structured debate in which to hit back at the Obama administration’s official five-month deepwater drilling ban last year and what critics labeled a de facto ban for months afterward.

Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican freshman from eastern Pennsylvania, said he’s heard about the issue constantly during the congressional recess, while no action is taken in Washington.


“We talk about the CR and debt limits and budgets, and I go home and think we didn’t do anything about gas prices again,” Barletta told POLITICO. “It's frustrating to me as a member of Congress not to be able to come home and say, 'Don’t worry, we don’t have a plan.' I'm just as frustrated as they are in the fact that we aren’t addressing that.

“If every member went home and got beat up over gas prices as a group in Washington, we might have more serious talks about what to do," he added.

Other bills from the Natural Resources panel would lead to new offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean and off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. And expect to hear more about the EPA’s climate change regulations that affect petroleum refiners.

All of the GOP-led measures are likely dead on arrival in the filibuster-heavy and Democratic-controlled Senate.

Democrats will counter with “use it or lose it” legislation that aims to force companies to produce on, or have a valid reason for not producing on, their existing leases or risk losing other drilling opportunities — a strategy derided by the GOP and oil industry as unrealistic and unhelpful in addressing high prices. Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, also noted possible measures to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and go after gasoline price gouging and excessive market speculation.

Pelosi’s office advised Democrats to use this current spring break to gain a foothold in the gas price debate, including the standard press conference and photo op at gas stations.

“Feature Democratic price gouging legislation and other bills that Republicans have blocked, and the Republican budget that provides billions in subsidies for Big Oil while cutting investments in clean energy,” states the April 20 memo.

Democrats were also advised to release a report on local gas prices by choosing 10 local stations and noting how much prices there went up in a week versus the national average.

On Thursday, the administration launched a new commission to investigate “fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices — and that includes the role of traders and speculators,” Obama said at a stop in Reno, Nev.

Along those lines, 27 House Democrats — including some led by Rep. Tim Bishop of New York who are considered vulnerable again this cycle — have offered a bill enabling the FTC and state attorneys general to "institute civil and criminal penalties for fuel price gouging during periods proclaimed by the president as an international crisis affecting oil markets, and could also apply to speculation in the oil futures market." A similar measure passed the House last year.

And expect to hear Democrats defend the administration on offshore drilling. Interior has stepped up its issuing of new offshore permits after companies in mid-February developed new well-capping tools in the wake of new department safety and environmental standards rolled out in September.

Marin Cogan contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Rep. Lou Barletta's comments about congressional action on gas prices.



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