"Increasing energy production on our nation's public lands and waters can create millions of jobs, boost the economy, lower energy costs and make America more secure."

Cantor was speaking about H.R. 4480, the Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, which would link the use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to the development of more domestic energy. It would also speed up oil permitting, and require the government to study how environmental rules lead to higher gasoline prices.

He was met on the floor by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who rejected the idea that the bill would create jobs, and said finishing the stalled highway bill would be a far better way to achieve that goal.

"I'm hopeful that either in the next 24 hours or in the next nine days we will in fact pass a jobs bill that will create jobs, and everybody knows that," he said. "That's the highway bill."

"These are not what Congress ought to be focusing on this week, or next week," he said of the energy bill. "Let's turn our attention to our most pressing issues: student loans, construction jobs, keeping middle class taxes low, and reducing deficits, instead of wasting the American people's time on partisan bills that won't solve any of our real problems."

Hoyer also argued that oil development under President Obama has boomed, and that the U.S. already has more oil rigs in operation than the rest of the world combined.

Other Democrats said the bill is a boon to the oil industry, and should be defeated. "Today's bill is one more massive giveaway, and it is one more massive assault on the environment," said House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

The House was expected to start debate on more than two dozen amendments to the bill Wednesday evening, and hold any necessary amendment votes and pass the bill Thursday.