House Postpones Offshore Drilling Bill

By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 5, 2006; 5:42 PM

House leaders pulled an offshore drilling measure off the calendar today, an apparent signal that the bill did not have the two-thirds majority of votes needed for it to be adopted.

The bill would open up a substantial amount of new acreage for oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and would divert 37.5 percent of future federal royalties -- ultimately billions of dollars -- to four coastal states. It has already been approved by the Senate.

Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), said the measure could still come up later this week. "The House will revisit the offshore drilling legislation again at some point before the end of this week, though details on the mechanics of how the measure will be considered have yet to be decided."

Today's vote on the suspension calendar did not allow House members to amend the bill, but it did require a two-thirds majority. If the bill comes up later in the week, the Rules Committee could decide to allow amendments to be proposed, but the measure would only require the support of a simple majority of members.

Supporters of the measure warned that amending the bill would amount to the same thing as killing it. There is not enough time in the lame duck session of Congress to have a conference committee resolve different Senate and House versions and then bring them back for final votes.

House leaders were also considering attaching the measure to a more popular piece of legislation, such as the extension of tax provisions.

Earlier in the year the House approved a more expansive offshore drilling measure, that would have opened up waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to oil and gas drilling. Opponents of the Senate version include members who believe it goes too far and those who say it doesn't go far enough.

Foes of offshore drilling hoped that today's move spelled the end of efforts to get the bill passed. "Let's hope this is the end of Congress' fling with Big Oil and that we can make a fresh start to achieving true energy security with the new year and the new Congress," Athan Manuel of the Sierra Club said in a statement.

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