WASHINGTON – The prospect of American voters hitting the open roads over July 4th weekend without a legislative remedy to gas at $4-plus a gallon has thrown the congressional legislative machine into overdrive.
Time will tell if Congress has enough gas in the tank to pass anything before the break.
Senate Republicans have one plan. Senate Democrats have another. On the other side of Capitol Hill, House Republicans are doing their best to derail other plans that Democrats in that chamber are pushing. And don't forget the White House — and the two senators who hope to fill it in January.
Senate Republicans on Thursday plan on unveiling a scaled-down version of an earlier energy bill. It drops a provision to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to try to gain bipartisan support. It falls in line with presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain, who also opposes ANWR drilling, but last week announced his support of offshore oil exploration.
Other details in the Senate GOP bill are murky, but a previous version included the Outer Continental Shelf drilling provision, which is supported not only by McCain, but by President Bush. It could also contain a provision to allow for oil-shale extraction, a method so far seen as too costly in the United States.
Meanwhile, Republicans did their best to paint presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama as the candidate who will hurt Americans' wallets most.
"Instead of supply and demand, you might call it 'Obamanomics," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is one of the most influential Republicans on the Hill. And another McCain ally, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. called Obama "Dr. No" for his opposition to new oil production and nuclear plants.
One political boon for McCain will not be present in the Republican bill — a gas tax holiday. "No one ever took that seriously. It doesn't do anything," one GOP aide told FOX News.
Democrats have been focused on penalizing the big profits made by major oil companies, as well as demonizing Saudi Arabia for being too stingy with their control of the oil spigot.
Both sides seem to favor an increase in alternative sources of energy, but, so far, the only compromise that promotes this industry, a $19 billion extension of renewable energy tax credits, has been offered on the housing bill and is currently a major partisan source of friction on that package.
Democrats so far have failed to win a windfall tax on oil companies and tougher gas-price-gouging rules. But that doesn't mean they're out of ammunition.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, on Wednesday said she was sending a letter to Bush asking him to require the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to enforce laws curbing speculation in the energy markets. Democratic leaders suggest speculation could be adding anywhere from $20 to $60 to the price of a barrel of oil, although any bill on this isn't expected until after the break.
"The CFTC's prompt action would send a strong signal to the market that CFTC will be both a 'cop on the beat' and be prepared to use its power to address systemic weaknesses that are contributing to market instability," Pelosi wrote.
Democrats also said they will forge ahead tomorrow with the so-called "use it or lose it" bill. The package would take away lands from energy companies that own leases to federal property for drilling but are not using it. Democrats say oil companies have leases to some 68 million acres but are not developing them.
But Republicans fought Democrats on that level, too. House Majority Leader John Boehner sent Pelosi a letter blasting the "use it or lose it" provision, saying the law already exists "and the Interior Secretary may cancel any lease if a company fails to comply."
Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., of the leased lands, said: "Just because you buy a bingo card doesn't mean you win bingo. Just because you drill oil on leased land doesn't mean you get oil."
All the while, the presidential contenders are refining their positions, while maintaining jobs in the Senate.
Obama's has called for a long-term investment of $150 billion into energy alternative research, coupled with short-term tax rebates and cuts for working-class families. He opposes the gas tax holiday as well as the lifting of the offshore drilling ban.
McCain this week called for a $300 million prize for someone to develop an improved battery for automobiles. He also supports expanded nuclear energy and outlined a proposal for more energy-efficient federal office buildings.
Last week, the president said Congress must lift the offshore drilling ban, approve of oil-shale extraction and remove of barriers to new oil production capacity. He also called for drilling in ANWR.
FOX News' Trish Turner, Chad Pergram and Jessica Weinstein contributed to this report.