As Democrats call for tapping the nation's emergency oil supply to ease rising gas prices, Republicans pushed Thursday for a raft of new proposals aimed at boosting domestic energy production.
House Speaker John Boehner joined with other Republicans to promise a string of "bite-sized" energy bills, which are expected to deal with drilling, building pipelines and facilitating the development of nuclear power.
"As gas prices go up, the cost of everyday life goes up," Boehner said Thursday, warning that the increase harms the very businesses the country is depending on for a robust economic recovery.
Republicans titled their new push for domestic energy production the "American energy initiative," and vowed to introduce legislation in the coming weeks.
Boehner said the proposals would be divided into "chunks," noting that the days of comprehensive legislation should be over -- an apparent dig at the health care overhaul.
The speaker suggested one bill could deal with expanding the use of natural gas; another could encourage oil and gas exploration while devoting royalties to "green energy development;" and another could promote nuclear energy.
"Whether prices spiral out of control from an act of God or an act of (Libyan leader Muammar) Qaddafi, we should deploy the Strategic Petroleum Reserve," Markey said, while continuing to call for more clean-energy development.
The dueling energy demands put lawmakers in familiar camps as they scramble to find a way to rein in gas prices over the short- and long-term. The problem is political as much as it is economic.
The average cost of a gallon of regular has topped $3.50 and in some places has already reached $4. The White House cautions against talking about any particular price as the threshold for action, but lawmakers nevertheless have warned that the threat of $4-a-gallon gas should justify some sort of policy change.
According to a new Gallup poll, one in four Americans thinks prices in their area will reach $5 a gallon this year, while $4-a-gallon gas is a foregone conclusion for many.
On the Democratic side, lawmakers have determined the best way to thwart this trend is to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, something that's been done on an emergency basis just twice in U.S. history. Lawmakers for decades, though, have called for drawdowns from the reserve when gas prices were on the upswing or the global oil supply appeared threatened. They did so during a rise in gas prices in 2000, and again in 2002 during a national strike in Venezuela, to name just a couple instances.
Calls for more domestic drilling have been similarly cyclical.
But Republicans said Thursday that the Obama administration, by restricting production in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP oil disaster and locking off other resources, is making the United States more vulnerable to increased prices. They said Democrats are playing politics with their calls to tap the oil reserve, and that long-term changes are needed.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the United States is "sitting on" billions of barrels of oil.
"Unfortunately, this administration since they have taken charge have honestly gone in 180 degrees away from utilizing these resources," he said.
Though GOP lawmakers want more drilling in the Gulf, the Arctic and elsewhere, the Obama administration claims it's fostered domestic production.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, asked Thursday about Boehner's accusations, said U.S. production is the highest it's been since 2003 and noted that 37 shallow-water drilling leases have been issued since the BP spill.
Carney said the administration is committed to responsible domestic oil production and would seek to boost output "where we can."
Republicans counter that U.S. oil production is below where it was projected to be just a few years ago and that, where there was growth, the administration is taking credit for production stemming from leases that pre-dated this White House.
The Energy Information Administration estimates that 1.39 million barrels a day will be produced this year, and that the amount will fall to 1.14 million barrels a day by 2012.
The price of a gallon of gas has climbed steadily as political unrest engulfs the Middle East and North Africa, which together account for more than 30 percent of global oil production.
That price has increased by about 40 cents a gallon over the past month. Gas prices are still about 60 cents below what they were when they set a record in July 2008.