WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans are poised to shut down the government if they are not allowed a vote on new oil drilling legislation.
This comes even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated she could budge on allowing a drilling vote, which so far she and her Senate counterpart have blocked from seeing daylight in Congress.
Current bans on the Outer Continental Shelf and oil shale drilling expire on the first day of the coming fiscal year: Oct. 1. Now, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., is leading a group of GOP senators celebrating the day, which they have dubbed "American Energy Freedom Day."
"The overwhelming majority of Republican Senators have pledged to protect October 1 as American Energy Freedom Day so we can reduce dependence on foreign oil and lower the cost of gas at the pump," DeMint said, according to a release from his office.
"Many people aren’t aware that the bans on drilling must be renewed every year, and all we have to do is allow these prohibitions to expire on October 1. In just 50 days, Americans will have the freedom to pursue their own energy resources here at home. Our letter is very straightforward: we will actively oppose any effort to extend the bans on offshore drilling and oil shale," DeMint said.
This is setting the stage for a showdown in September with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and most other Demorats who oppose this drilling.
In response to DeMint, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said: "Isn't this the same day that Republicans would be endangering the delivery of Social Security checks because of their misguided attempts to promote energy policies that will do nothing to deal with the short term problems facing the country?"
Reid and Pelosi have avoided holding votes on drilling because of growing support among their own ranks for such legislation amid rising energy prices. Democratic leadership maintains new drilling won't change prices in the near term.
Reid and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., even cancelled markups of spending bills that renewed the moratoria, a move that was a tacit admission that there were enough votes to override Democratic opposition to drilling.
Reid has said he intends to try to renew the bans when Congress returns in September through a continuing spending resolution -- a measure used to bypass the annual spending bills, and adopt the current spending levels until the new Congress takes its seat. But to pass his version, Reid will need a filibuster-breaking 60 votes, which could prove difficult.
In a letter from DeMint to Reid, DeMint indicates the GOP has the votes to sustain any veto of a continuing resolution that might get 60 votes.
But if Congress can't agree to a continuing resolution before Oct. 1, the government shuts down.
Pelosi, speaking Monday on CNN's "Larry King Live," said "We can do that. We can have a vote on (oil drilling)."
The Hill newspaper reported she indicated that a vote would be part of a larger package that included one of her pet projects, releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. She says she believes that would reduce gasoline prices immediately, whereas, she says, oil drilling might never reduce prices.
"But it has to be part of something that says we want to bring immediate relief to the public and is not just a hoax on them,” Pelosi said.
She even indicated that she might support a package that includes drilling, according to The Hill.
“It’s not excluded, let’s put it that way,” Pelosi said.
But Republicans who have been protesting Democrats' anti-drilling stance said they are not impressed with Pelosi's apparent change of heart. Lawmakers told reporters Tueday morning her comments don't go far enough, and they still want a vote.
Pelosi's apparent change in heart comes as Republicans on Capitol Hill have taken the diminished bully pulpit to decry Democrats' actions over energy prices. Although the House is officially out of session, House Republicans have stayed in Washington grab whoever they can, whether its reporters or tourists, to criticize Democrats, they say, for not holding a vote on drilling.
Republicans believe that lifting a ban on offshore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf not only would increase long-term domestic fuel capacity, but drop prices immediately by sending a signal to the oil markets.
Democrats instead have sought more market controls, the release from the petroleum reserve, and a requirement that federal lands already under lease be explored before more federal land, like the OCS, is doled out to oil companies.
FOX News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.