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Energy represents a belief test for new party leaders

Bob Tippee
Editor

Political-party leadership choices portend much about energy issues in the 110th Congress. In turn, energy choices will say much about what the parties believe.

For Democrats, there's no mystery. With Nancy Pelosi of California as speaker of the House and Harry Reid of Nevada as Senate majority leader, energy markets will be under siege.

Liberal Democrats like Pelosi and Reid treat energy as a menu of political choices and energy problems as evidence of lapsed political will—rather than the results of past policy failures that they most often are.

Republicans will be more interesting. The question is whether they learned from their electoral drubbing Nov. 7 that they can't win elections by acting like Democrats. Energy issues give them a good way to reassert an ideological difference.

Having lost the initiative on energy issues, Republicans now must defend the nation against the new majority party's worst compulsions. But will they?

Leadership choices this week provide some comfort. The new House minority leader, John Boehner of Ohio, showed mettle last April by helping to block a windfall profit tax on oil companies.

The new Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, was a cosponsor this year of an effort to expand oil and gas leasing of the Outer Continental Shelf. The Senate bill was a faint echo of its House counterpart. But political resistance was tough in the Senate, and at least McConnell took part in a righteous effort.

Then there's Trent Lott, the former majority leader from Mississippi deposed after making remarks taken to be racially insensitive. Lott said he didn't intend for the comments to be offensive and apparently has served his penance; he's back in Republican leadership as McConnell's assistant.

There can be no mistaking the intent of comments Lott made in October 2005, when gasoline prices were high following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and oil company profits were leaping.

Calling for "voluntary or mandatory profit controls," Lott issued a manifesto: "Either the oil companies must take steps to help America, or America will do it for them."

A Democrat couldn't have said it better.

(Online Nov. 17, 2006; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)


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