House advances offshore energy bills

Republicans supported the first bill as one that would help expand domestic energy development, and said it's needed to counter the Obama administration's restrictions on offshore lease sales.

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"So in essence you have a bill that makes us more energy independent, drives down the cost of fuel for U.S. families, helps reduce the cost to the federal government, and produces an estimated 1.2 million new jobs. I think by most standards that would be considered a fairly good bill," said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

Republicans added that President Obama's announcement this week shows Obama is looking to run in the other direction, by seeking to restrict emissions from coal-fired electricity plants.

"The President's latest efforts to impose new energy taxes and government red tape follow four and a half years of erecting American energy roadblocks," House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said.

Democrats argued that the bill does nothing to put in place offshore drilling safeguards in the wake of the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

The second bill would implement a U.S.-Mexico agreement allowing the development of resources along the maritime border in the Gulf of Mexico. Republicans cast it as a bill to implement that 2012 agreement, but Democrats said it includes partisan language that eliminates a reporting requirement that companies are now required to meet.

"[M]y colleagues on the other side of the aisle have chosen to take the partisan route by including a provision that waives the Securities and Exchange Commission natural resources extraction disclosure rule of the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act, which requires the disclosure of payments from oil and gas companies to foreign governments," Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said. "I just simply don't understand why this poison pill was added."

The Obama administration has said it opposes H.R. 1613 because of this language, and has said the president would veto H.R. 2231 if it were presented for his signature.

Democrats spent much of the debate arguing that the House should be focused this week on passing a bill ensuring student loan rates don't double on July 1. Republicans countered that the House has passed a bill already, and said the Senate has failed to pass its own version that might be conferenced.

A bipartisan group of senators has been working on a bill that is similar to the House plan, but it became clear this week that the Senate would not be able to act in time.

Earlier today, an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate is still stuck over whether the bill should pay for lower student loan rates by closing tax loopholes on companies.

"There is no deal on student loans that can pass the Senate because Republicans continue to insist that we reduce the deficit on the backs of students and middle-class families, instead of closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and big corporations," Adam Jentleson said. "Democrats continue to work in good faith to reach a compromise but Republicans refuse to give on this critical point."