Senate GOP issues ultimatum to expand oil drilling

Senate Republicans have threatened to block nearly all other bills pending before the August recess if Democrats refuse to vote with them on expanding offshore drilling.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said bills that do not pertain to energy can wait until after the August recess, with gas prices now surpassing $4 per gallon.

ADVERTISEMENT
McConnell and top Republicans indicated Wednesday they would oppose any procedural votes to take up other legislation, which require 60 votes to succeed.

"We think there is nothing more important that we can do right now than to deal with the Number One issue of the country," McConnell said. "This is the biggest issue since terrorism right after 9/11. People are pounding on their desks, saying, 'Why don't these people get together and do something about this problem'?"

The hardball tactics reflect Republican confidence that they can pull off a major election-year victory with gas prices at record highs, after they have been battered at the polls and have lost on several recent high-profile legislative battles.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) planned for the Senate this week to pass a bill targeting market speculation on oil futures, which both sides blame for playing a role in driving up gasoline prices.

Following swift Senate action on the narrow energy bill, Reid wanted the Senate to approve a massive defense authorization bill, an overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, legislation to protect reporters' sources, an extension of expiring energy tax incentives, and a major package of 33 bills held up by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

But Republicans are planning to keep the Senate on the energy issue until their demands are resolved. The massive housing-rescue package might be the only other measure that gets valuable floor time before the August recess.

Democrats say the GOP is intentionally prolonging the debate in order to score political points by insisting on more than two dozen amendments to the oil-speculation bill. Democrats, who say opening up new lands won't affect prices for a decade and are concerned about its environmental impacts, have offered the GOP one amendment to the oil-speculation bill.

But the GOP is positioning itself as the party willing to do whatever it takes to lower gas prices. The Republicans say Democrats are scared to cast votes on new drilling in the face of voter anger over high gasoline prices, and they point to the majority's decision to scrap appropriations bills to avoid a debate over lifting the congressional ban on drilling along the Outer Continental Shelf.

McConnell said the Senate will be in session in September and will have time then to finish outstanding issues.

"Our goal is to stay on the subject that the American people are demanding that we do something about and finish the job," McConnell said.

His deputy, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said the GOP would object to any motions to proceed to other measures in order "to keep the energy bill on the floor to pass a good energy bill."

Rodell Mollineau, a Reid spokesman, shot back at the Republican threat.

"Why would Sen. McConnell's statement be any different than his posture on most every other bill to come through the Senate?" Mollineau said. "Bush-McCain Republicans have conducted 83 filibusters so far this year and have blocked six attempts this summer to address the energy crisis. Their feigned outrage would be laughable if it wasn't at the expense of millions of Americans suffering at the pump."