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Drill, Baby, Drill ... Just Not Anytime Soon

The Republicans pushed the case for domestic offshore drilling at their convention, but will Congress take any action before November?
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Republicans spent the first week of September at their national convention in the Twin Cities chanting: "Drill, baby, drill." The pressure and poll numbers showing public support for drilling may be paying off for them.

Democrats have resisted efforts to support offshore drilling most of the summer. However, a bipartisan group of senators has pushed for an energy compromise that would include drilling. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) announced Monday a legislative slate to address comprehensive energy plans and offshore drilling to facilitate a compromise.

Will an energy bill pass or will 2008 mirror 2004 when Congress passed the buck on energy? Back in 2004 an important presidential election was also dominating the news. However, in contrast to the present, Democrats were in the minority back in 2004. Democrats had managed to block the passage of an energy bill crafted by VP Dick Cheney's energy commission for three years in a row by bottling it up in the Senate. It finally passed in 2005 after the election.

History could very well repeat itself. Democrats and Republicans have drawn distinct lines in the sand, making it practically impossible for a bipartisan solution. Robert Dillon, political correspondent for

Energy Intelligence

, said in an interview: "Both Democrats and Republicans have their poison pill to kill any energy legislation."

Dillon pointed to three provisions the Democrats -- who are now in the majority -- have insisted on and for which they face opposition by the Republicans and the oil industry: 1) use-it-or-lose-it provisions for drilling leases, 2) windfall profit taxes and 3) renewable fuel standards. Dillon said: "The Democrats remain uninterested in compromise because they see the possibility of picking up seats in the Congress and a Democratic president."

Presently, the Republicans enjoy the minority status. It appears as if they plan to block any legislation that fails to include the greatest possible access to offshore drilling. Dillon succinctly said: "It's the only issue Republicans have gained traction with voters."

House Republican Leader Rep. John Boehner (R., Ohio) drew the lines with harsh words for the Democrats. He said Monday:

"Instead of giving the American people the energy bill they expect and deserve, it appears that Democrats will bring up another sham bill loaded up with tax hikes and failed energy policies that will raise gasoline prices further, not lower them. Any bill that puts 80 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf off limits permanently cannot be called an 'all of the above' energy plan, and the American people will not support it. We have three weeks left in this Congress, and it's time for the Democrats who control it to do the right thing and give Americans the energy vote they deserve."

Of course, Boehner lacks sufficient votes to stop the Democrats from passing legislation in the House of Representatives.

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Democrats have charged Republicans with lobbying for big oil. According the Center for Responsive Politics, the Republicans have consistently maintained a better than 3-to-1

fundraising advantage with the oil and gas industry

over the past decade. Republicans already have collected more than $14.7 million in 2008 vs. the Democrats' $5 million.

Most of the action turns to the

Senate proposals

this week. Senate Majority Leader Reid has placed his faith for compromise in the so-called "Gang of 10," which has increased now to 16 senators. However, a similar "gang of 14" tried to pass immigration reform last year and failed.

Reid, not helping in the matter, pointed his finger at Republicans. He said on Monday:

"It should be clear to all that we are offering Republicans multiple opportunities to vote for increased drilling, which they have chosen to make their marquee legislative priority and campaign issue. We offered votes on drilling before the August recess, and Republicans rejected our offers. This time, I hope Republicans will put their votes where their mouths are to pass comprehensive legislation that includes drilling."

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) echoed Boehner, but with a slightly softer statement. He said in a press release:

"Americans want us to act to increase offshore exploration. There is nothing to fear in this. We can and should increase domestic energy exploration even as we encourage the use of alternative energy sources and new conservation measures. There is no good reason we can't all get behind a balanced approach that would allow us to find more and use less at the same time."

Nobody should be fooled by the sounds suggesting a compromise on energy legislation. Democrats plan to wait for a stronger position come next January, while Republicans refuse to surrender on popular and potentially-winning election issue.