Published August 06, 2008
WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is not impressed by Republican efforts at reducing energy prices, or their attempts to publicize them.
Several GOP House lawmakers this week have taken the chamber by storm as Congress is officially on a five-week break and Democrats are out of town. The show continued Wednesday, its fourth day, with an appearance by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The GOP members say it is to bring attention to Democrats' blocking a vote on offshore oil drilling legislation, an issue Republicans say would be a winner if it actually made it to a vote.
But Pelosi said Democratic initiatives, which don't include offshore drilling, are the answer to the country's high energy prices.
"The facts are clear," Pelosi wrote Tuesday in a letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. The Democratic-led Congress "has repeatedly brought forth proposals to increase domestic supply, reduce the price at the pump, protect American consumers and businesses and promote renewable energy and conservation.
"To date, Democrats have brought forward 13 major initiatives to accomplish the above goals and each time a majority of House Republicans have voted against these proposals."
Pelosi refuted oil drilling as a solution, citing an Energy Department statistic that oil and gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf would not begin until 2017, even if the ban were lifted immediately. She also said price changes would be minimal through 2030.
Mentioning the group of House members still in Washington, D.C. — whom she referred to as "a very small band of your colleagues" — she said voters back home "deserve to know why their representatives in Congress have failed to support serious, responsible proposals."
In her letter, Pelosi did not mention any specific areas on which Democrats and Republicans might find common ground, although she again pushed for the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a measure Republicans blocked before Congress broke for recess in July.
If the letter weren't clear enough, Pelosi released a top-10 list of "questions for the House GOP on Energy," also drawing in John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.
For instance, Question No. 5. asks: "Senator McCain missed two critical votes in the Senate to promote renewable and conservation. The American people have a right to know why he is putting the interests of Big Oil ahead of American consumers. Why is that?"
Pelosi also suggested Congress repeal tax breaks for oil companies in light of recent record profits.
"If House Republicans are for 'all of the above,' why do you oppose efforts to protect consumers like price gouging and holding OPEC accountable for price fixing?" reads Question No. 6.
Pelosi laid blame at Republican feet for not ensuring "we wouldn't reach the energy crisis we're in now" while they were in the majority in Congress, and asked for support for ending "undue speculation in the oil market" — a measure that met its demise in the Senate.
Pelosi vouched for a larger low-income heating assistance program and a renewable electricity standard, both of which are unpopular among Republicans.
Making a cameo appearance Wednesday, Gingrich, who led another Republican revolt in the mid-1990s that sparked a government shutdown, joined the protest over energy prices.
Gingrich said Democrats are making a mistake by blocking Republican proposals for new domestic oil drilling, including in coastal areas off Georgia.
In a press conference with current GOP lawmakers just off the House floor, he acknowledged that his party is "fighting uphill" in November's congressional elections. But inaction on high gas prices could change that, he said.
"The more that (Pelosi and Senate leader Harry Reid) are clearly the anti-energy obstacles, the harder it is for Democrats back home to get re-elected," he said, dismissing government estimates that offshore drilling would have a negligible impact on gas prices. "If the Democrats don't find a way to pass a big energy bill, I think they're in extraordinary trouble."
Several Georgia lawmakers such as Reps. Lynn Westmoreland, Tom Price and Phil Gingrey helped lead the Republican protest earlier in the week but have since flown home.
But the protests aren't over yet. At least one lawmaker was touting his plans to come back next week.
"Once again Speaker Pelosi and Democrat leaders of Congress have broken trust with the American people and shown themselves to be completely indifferent to reality," said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., about his ire over the lack of a drilling bill. "I look forward to joining my colleagues who are choosing to stand firm and demand a fair vote on energy legislation on behalf of the American people."
Gingrich's appearance Wednesday drew questions about his leadership over another Republican revolt in 1995 in which the party was widely blamed for a monthlong, holiday-season government shutdown during a budget standoff with former President Bill Clinton.
He said this time Democrats may have to decide whether to shut down Congress to avoid a drilling vote.
Gingrich, who led the House from 1995 to 1999, addressed a throng of reporters at a press conference but said he would not speak on the floor because he is no longer a member. An advocacy group he formed last fall, American Solutions for Winning the Future, has collected some 1.4 million signatures on an online petition calling for new U.S. oil drilling, he said.
In opposing offshore drilling, many Democrats point to Energy Department projections that it would have a minimal impact on gas prices through at least 2030. They argue that the U.S. must begin moving away from fossil fuels toward homegrown technologies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.