Congress Adjourns Without Action on Energy

By Steven Mufson and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 2, 2008

After two months of fever-pitch debate over how to deal with the soaring price of oil, Congress left town yesterday without doing anything on energy.

The final day featured a group of raucus Republicans who remained on the House floor after an adjournment vote was passed, the microphones turned off and the lights dimmed, demanding that Democratic leaders return and take action on comprehensive energy legislation.

On the Senate side, a bipartisan group of senators known as the "group of 10" yesterday outlined a possible $84 billion compromise bill including new "targeted" offshore drilling opportunities and a $20 billion program to get 85 percent of new U.S. vehicles off petroleum-based fuels in 20 years. But the group left unresolved some of the toughest issues -- such as how to fully pay for the bill.

The group called for a bipartisan summit to be held after the August recess, but by early afternoon different pieces of the plan were being picked apart. Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) criticized the offshore drilling portion, and the liberal Center for American Progress said the group deserved "an A for effort, but their proposal is unsatisfactory and needs many improvements."

Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said he hoped small bipartisan groups in the House and Senate could spur legislative action in September. "Though there is not a lot of time, maybe we'll see some vote on those bills or some version thereof," he said.

Others were less confident. Gregory Wetstone, senior director for government affairs at the American Wind Energy Association, has been pressing lawmakers to extend production tax credits for wind and solar, a futile effort so far despite widespread support in both parties.

"It's a very difficult climate right now on Capitol Hill," he said. A measure with renewable credits has gone to the House floor five times and the Senate floor eight times without passing. "You certainly can't say that there hasn't been an effort to move this thing," he said. "But there seems to be always something more important to fight about."

With a volatile oil market, record high gasoline prices and heightened concern about climate change, it is difficult to predict how voters will react in November. But both Republicans and Democrats claimed that public opinion was on their side, and some observers wondered whether leaders of both parties felt they would fare better in November without an agreement than with one.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) cited a poll showing the public blames President Bush, oil companies and foreign nations for $4-a-gallon gas.

Republicans have cited other polls showing that voters are more open than ever to offshore drilling.

Despite the nearly month-long Republican drumbeat to allow drilling in offshore areas currently off limits, Democrats did not allow Republicans a clear vote on the issue.

Democrats maintained that more drilling was not only environmentally risky but unnecessary, because energy companies were not using their record profits to explore in areas already open for drilling.

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