McClintock was speaking as part of a debate on H.R. 1229, which would require the Department of the Interior to decide Gulf of Mexico drilling permits. Republicans see the bill as a way of forcing the administration's hand on permit approvals, and charge that the administration has slow-walked permits due to overwrought concerns about the environment.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) started the debate by saying the bill also steps up drilling safety requirements, in part by requiring new safety reviews and requiring by law that companies have drilling permits in hand before they start drilling. Lamborn and others also rejected Democratic arguments in favor of higher taxes on oil companies as a way to fight rising gas prices.

"How in the world higher prices on energy would help Americans at the gas pump is beyond me," Lamborn said.

House debate on the bill started at 4 p.m., and Democrats continued to argue that Congress should be focused on taxing oil companies. Some have argued that tax receipts could be reimbursed to U.S. drivers.

The House on Tuesday is expected to start debate on 11 Democratic amendments to the bill, but a vote on the final bill is not expected until Wednesday. Most of the Democratic amendments relate to the safety and transparency of Gulf drilling.