Dem vs. Dem showdown as House votes on Gulf oil spill response

House Democrats on Thursday are expected to pass legislation that serves as their response to the Gulf oil spill despite opposition from conservatives in their caucus.

“I feel confident we’ll pass it,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told reporters Friday as the House began debate on the measure. 

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Critics of the bill off Capitol Hill also predicted that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would be able to squeeze out majority support, probably with the help of at least a couple of Republicans.

Centrist and conservative Democrats fear the legislaton will hurt small, independent oil and natural-gas producers.

“There are a lot of things in there that have nothing to do with safety and offshore production,” said Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), one of 29 Democrats who on Friday voted against approving the rule establishing debate on the measure.

The rule passed, 220-194, without any Republican backing.  

“It’s the first time I can remember I voted against a rule as a Democrat,” he said.

The rule governing the floor debate allows for the consideration of nine amendments, including a few key measures that could win over some reluctant oil-patch and Blue Dog Democrats.

One is an amendment from Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) that would allow small producers to pool together their resources to pay for responding to a spill. The amendment sounds similar to an idea floated by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would establish a mutual insurance fund that all oil-and-gas companies would pay into for addressing spills.

Green said he will vote against the bill regardless of whether the Teague amendment — or one from Gulf-Coast Democrats seeking to overturn an Obama administration ban on deepwater drilling — is approved. He is walking around with a list of possible opponents to chat with before the final vote. “I am not whipping. I am talking to my friends,” he said.

Green said he did not know whether the bill would pass. “We have a lot of oil-and-gas Democrats who are not Blue Dogs who are voting no,’ ” he said.  

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) — a centrist who voted in favor of the rule — also said Friday he was still opposing the bill itself due to its effect on natural-gas producers in his area. But he acknowledged that the situation remains fluid. 

“These things can change now by the hour so I will wait until it comes to the floor and we’ll see what it is,” Boucher said. He said Democratic leaders have not approached him to see what he needs to support the measure.

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