Withhold potshots and hold energy summit, US senators urge leaders

Nine US senators urged their Democratic and Republican leaders to end their partisan potshots and convene an energy summit immediately after the congressional Independence Day recess.

Nine US senators urged their Democratic and Republican leaders to end their partisan potshots and convene an energy summit immediately after the congressional Independence Day recess.

"Our hope is to hear from the best experts on energy policy who can prevent an unbiased view of the most promising approaches, including both enhanced conservation and increased domestic fuel production, that reduce [gasoline] prices, lessen our dependence on foreign oil and strengthen our economy," they wrote in a June 26 letter to Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

"We believe this input will be valuable for all members of the Senate in developing a list of proposals for immediate action," the senators maintained.

Their letter came as Democrats on both sides of the capitol called for federal crackdowns on energy commodities speculators, alleged oil product price gougers and producers who supposedly are not exploring federal leases they already hold. Republicans, meanwhile, continued pressing to expand leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf and authorize leasing within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"Our country is in serious danger because of skyrocketing energy costs. This growing crisis demands urgent action and we must be committed to coming together in a bipartisan way to develop comprehensive energy legislation," said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who signed the letter with Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Blanche L. Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

'Should not play politics'

"This is a complex issue, but we cannot shy away from action," said Chambliss. "We should not play politics with such an urgent crisis; we must come together and act now. That is what Georgians want and it is what we policymakers want."

"Congress must come together, move past endless partisan posturing and take action. But action must be rooted in knowledge, and far too many comes to the debate listening only to interest groups that feed a political agenda. A bipartisan commitment, informed by balanced expertise, will allow Congress to move forward with common-sense energy policy that combines increased domestic production with an investment in alternative technologies," said Landrieu.

"For too long, Congress has let partisan politics block good energy policies. It is time for Congress to put these differences aside, find real solutions and put American back on a path toward energy independence," said Thune.

"Partisan bickering will not lower gas prices or put us on a course toward energy independence. We need to really sit down and talk about all the options on the table, evaluate their merits and move full speed ahead on meaningful reform," Pryor observed.

"There are no quick fixes in dealing with this issue, but there are things we can and must do. With skyrocketing gas prices, it is absolutely critical for Congress to act now and act boldly. Holding an energy summit to hear from the experts on energy policy is a positive first-step in moving toward a bipartisan solution," said Isakson.

CFTC bill clears House . . .

Angry exchanges between the two parties continued elsewhere in Congress on June 26 as it prepared to leave its the week-long Independence Day recess. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that the House approved a bill directing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to try and curb energy market speculation was approved by 402 to 19 votes. Republicans expressed support for the bill because it involved powers which the CFTC already has, they said in several floor speeches before the vote.

Pelosi also said that the House approved legislation which would lower mass transit fares and expand services, but rejected the so-called "use it or lose it" bill which aimed to pressure federal oil and gas lessees to start developing tracts they already have.

"Once again, Republicans voted with President Bush and Big Oil to keep domestic supply lower and prices higher. Earlier this week, in a party line vote, Republicans stopped Democratic efforts to empower the Federal Trade Commission to go after price gougers at the wholesale and retail level. While Democrats have worked to take our country in a new direction of energy independence, Republicans remain addicted to the failed energy policies of the past," the speaker said.

But Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that 19 Democrats joined 176 Republicans in defeating the bill which fell 64 votes short of the two-thirds majority required for passage under suspended rules. "Fully aware that their 'use it or lose it' bill has been thoroughly discredited by independent geologists, outside experts and even members of their own caucus, Democratic leaders brought forth this bill anyway today knowing it had no chance of earning passage," he said.

"And while they may think that's an appropriate use of floor time before leaving for recess, I don't know that the millions of American families struggling to make ends meet in a world of $140 oil would agree," Blunt continued.

He also chided Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.) for allegedly dissolving markup of the budgets for the Labor, Health & Human Services and Education departments after Ranking Member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and John E. Peterson (R-Pa.) attempted to bring Peterson's amendment lifting remaining federal OCS leasing moratoriums to a vote. "Faced with the prospect of being forced to cast a pro-energy vote in committee, senior Democrats decided their best action was simply to walk out of the room in the middle of a markup," said Blunt.

. . . But fails in Senate

In the Senate, Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said on June 27 that Republicans blocked passage of the same commodities which the House had overwhelmingly approved a day earlier. "The Senate is about to take a holiday, but consumers don't get to take a holiday from high gas prices thanks to partisan bickering. American families and businesses can't afford to wait another day, week or month for their government to act and defend them from out of control prices and burst the oil price bubble," she said.

A day earlier, she had joined with other senators, House members and representatives from labor and the airline and farming industries in urging swift action to close a number of oil futures market loopholes which they said are responsible for excessively high oil prices.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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