GOP Leaders Win on Energy Bill

By Justin Blum and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 8, 2005

In the first major vote since Rep. Tom DeLay stepped down from the House GOP leadership, Republicans narrowly escaped an embarrassing defeat when nearly an hour of arm-twisting pushed through a bill designed to expand the nation's capacity to refine oil into gasoline.

To Democratic shouts of "Shame! Shame," House leaders held a five-minute vote open for 45 minutes as they worked to bring around balking moderate Republicans. The bill was fervently opposed by environmentalists and their Democratic and Republican allies, but under heavy pressure from House leaders, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.) switched his vote from no to yes, ensuring the bill's passage by a vote of 212 to 210.

And if rank-and-file Republicans wondered what role DeLay (R-Tex.) would play after his indictments last month on money-laundering and conspiracy charges, Friday's theatrics provided the answer. Even without a leadership title, DeLay made it clear that he will still wield power. Just as he did when he was part of the leadership, he was present for the whole vote, pressing dissenting Republicans, especially Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.), who fidgeted with his voting card as DeLay pressed for his assent.

"It was a heck of a performance to turn this around," said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), one of 13 Republicans who joined 196 Democrats and one independent to nearly defeat the Gasoline for America's Security -- or GAS -- Act. "The lesson was that nothing's changed."

"I saw DeLay come out of retirement," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) "I saw him twisting the arms of at least three of my colleagues. . . . I saw a lot of unhappy Republicans."

Kevin Madden, DeLay's spokesman, said his boss would continue to use his influence to promote the Republican agenda. "Leadership knew this was going to be a tough vote. Mr. DeLay worked to help leadership get the votes needed," he said. "Everybody knows Mr. DeLay is someone members often seek counsel from."

Supporters of the energy-industry-backed bill said it would help encourage construction of new refineries. The measure would provide subsidies to small refiners and make some federal land available for locating new refineries.

It also would cut the number of pollution-reducing blends of fuel that must be used around the country. The bill also aims to encourage the construction of more pipelines.

But as the voting drama played out, lawmakers said they also realized how crucial a victory would be. In his decade in power, DeLay was a master at orchestrating the passage of legislation or rounding up critical votes at the last minute while extending the period of the vote. And if the GAS Act had been defeated, DeLay would have been the story, Castle said.

For moderate Republicans aligned with environmentalists, the vote was all the more difficult because Senate passage is highly unlikely.

A half-hour after the vote was called, 15 Republicans had voted no, and the bill appeared headed for defeat. Then, after 38 minutes, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) switched to yes. A minute later, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) switched to yes, after receiving assurances that a provision that calls on taxpayers to cover a refinery's legal bills if it is vindicated in court would be stripped out, according to Gerlach spokesman John Gentzel.

Moments later, Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) approached the front of the House chamber to change his vote from yes to no, only to find himself ignored as he motioned for attention. House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) jumped forward to wildly shout that a member wanted attention.

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