Partisan disagreements, summer recess delays oil spill legislation until at least September

Partisan disagreements in the Senate will delay passage of legislation responding to the Gulf oil spill until at least September, when Congress returns from its summer recess.

The House is scheduled to vote on its bill Friday but will be out of town by the time the Senate takes up its version next week — meaning Congress would have to wait to reconcile the differences. The Senate might not have the necessary 60 votes to advance the Democrats' energy and oil spill legislation, anyway, given the opposition of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats slammed Republicans for not supporting their bill's provision that would eliminate the $75 million cap on economic liability from an oil spill.

At a news conference, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said the rationale behind lifting the cap was simple: "When you mess up, you clean up." He accused Republicans of doing the oil companies' bidding.

The Senate GOP oil spill bill, by contrast, would give the president the authority to establish liability limits on individual facilities, taking into account factors such as water depth and a company's safety record. That approach, McConnell said this week, wouldn't drive "small independent oil producers out of business."

He also touted the GOP bill's provision to eliminate what he called the Obama administration's "job-killing moratorium" on offshore drilling, as soon as new safety standards are met.

"It's now perfectly obvious that Democrats are doing their best to keep us from passing a serious energy bill before the August recess," McConnell said.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that it was Republicans who had slowed down the process.

"The fact is Republicans aren't making it easy for us to do anything these days," said spokesman Jim Manley. "Even a bill such as this, which is narrowly targeted and carefully crafted, is going to be subject to strong Republican opposition on the Senate floor ... They're not inclined to give us agreement to deal with anything."

Reid introduced the bill this week after he realized he couldn't get 60 votes for more sweeping legislation that would have put a cap on carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming. The new bill, besides dealing with oil spill issues, includes provisions aimed at promoting energy efficiency, electric cars, the use of natural gas in heavy vehicles and conservation funding. But Democrats don't yet see 60 votes for this watered-down bill, either.

"Based on everything that's gone on here lately, there's no reason for us to expect any Republican support," said Manley.

The rival Senate bills do have some overlap: similar provisions that would overhaul government regulation of offshore drilling to prevent conflicts of interest.

Meanwhile, the Democrats' House bill, like the Senate version, eliminates the cap on liability for oil spills. It also includes new safety standards for offshore drilling; a Gulf of Mexico restoration program; ethics standards aimed at stopping the revolving door between government regulators and the oil and gas industry; and a new trust fund for oceans.