Land-grab defeat doesn't herald a friendly Congress

Bob Tippee
Editor

Defeat by the US House of a major lock-up of federal land provides a welcome ray of hope—but a flickering one.

In one of many assaults on US energy supply since the beginning of the year, the Senate in January passed a bill that would have excluded economic activity on more than 2 million federal acres and in other ways thwarted oil and gas exploration and production.

To attract votes, the Senate last year larded up the measure with parochial spending programs worth an estimated $10 billion, bundling 150 bills into an "omnibus" package that probably no one read in its entirety.

The unwieldy measure stalled until it took aboard a dozen more spending bills and Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed it forward in a rare Sunday session.

On Mar. 11, however, the earmark-festooned land grab fell to defeat in the House.

At first blush, the House move seems like a spasm of sound judgment. It's really just a political maneuver that didn't work.

The bill went to the House floor under a rules suspension prohibiting amendments but requiring a two-thirds majority for passage (OGJ Online, Mar. 12, 2009).

It failed 282-144. So 282 representatives—3 fewer than needed to enact the bill—gave their assent to curtailment of resource development amid recession and of activities vital to future oil and gas supply.

The oil and gas industry has little to cheer about here.

In fact, its leaders should know by now to be wary of hopeful signs, few as they are, in the current political climate.

President Barack Obama entered office on a strong note for the industry when he rejected the windfall profit tax with which many congressional Democrats wanted to slug producers. For a while, the industry might have thought he understood what's wrong with singling out oil and gas for punishing taxation.

The budget he proposed this month, which includes nearly every way to sap the industry except a windfall levy, corrects that misconception.

For the oil and gas business, the White House and Congress both remain hostile ground.

(Online Mar. 13, 2009; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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