WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday defeated a Democratic-backed initiative aimed at driving gasoline costs down, and Democrats and Republicans continued to blame each other for stalling each other's energy agendas.
Thursday's bill would have released about 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, roughly a three-day supply. The reserve is designed to keep oil in stock in the event of an emergency.
The 268-157 vote in favor of releasing the oil was not enough to overcome a rule requiring a two-thirds supermajority to win the measure. With 425 House members voting, Democrats would would have needed 284 votes to pass the package.
But the loss isn't without benefit to Democrats.
Democrats have been bringing energy-related bills to the floor with the two-thirds requirement in an effort to stave off GOP efforts on drilling offshore in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The two-thirds requirement prevents Republicans from offering amendments or other procedural tactics to get ANWR on the table. Many Democrats concede there's probably enough support in the House to pass an ANWR drilling measure if it came up under normal, simple majority rules.
Democrats lashed out at Republicans in a news conference later in the afternoon.
"When they (Republicans) had a chance to vote on everything, they voted no. ... Over half their caucus voted no" on the petroleum reserve bill, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., told reporters, adding: "They're against 'all of the above.' "
Leading up to the vote, House Minority Leader John Boehner called the Democrats' plan "a joke."
"This bill's a joke. Come on. We're going to take 20 million barrels of light crude and we're going to exchange it for $20 billion of heavy crude? This is not an energy bill. This is not going to produce any more American-made energy. It's not going to bring down the prices. It's just another excuse to avoid having a real vote on the House floor," the Ohio Republican said.
Democrats said the release from the oil reserve could provide relief at the pump within two weeks, though they would not say how much it would help $4-per-gallon gas. Earlier releases, such as a 34 million barrel drawdown in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, caused prices to fall.
As debate began, the White House threatened a veto. "Rather than drawing down a strategic reserve intended to protect our nation's energy security from a severe supply disruption, Congress should pass legislation to increase domestic oil supply," the White House said in a statement.
Across the Capitol, political squabbling promised to doom a Senate bill that would curb the kind of speculation in the oil markets that many people believe is partly responsible for the increases in oil prices.
Republicans appeared unlikely to agree to cut off debate and move the measure to a final vote. They complained that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had blocked them from offering amendments.
The result of all of the political maneuvering is that Congress will adjourn for a five-week vacation without having passed into law any response to high gas prices since legislation in May that required President Bush to suspend filling the reserve.
Republicans believe they are gaining the political upper hand because of Democrats' refusal to allow new drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf. Democrats said they have not seen any erosion in their standing with voters and say it allows them to cast Republicans as doing the bidding of big oil companies.
"This is an issue that the Republicans have latched onto in the absence of any other issue they have to talk about," said the House's second-ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland. "Not the economy, not Iraq, not foreign policy, ... it's the only issue they have."
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.