Strong Energy Measures Wanted

By Jon Cohen and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 10, 2008

A new national poll shows broad public support for government action in the face of $4-a-gallon gas and other energy concerns, giving Republicans a rare opening to go on the offensive against congressional Democrats and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Nearly two-thirds of Americans now put a priority on "finding new sources of energy" over improving conservation -- a significant shift since 2001 -- and majorities support all of the five potential federal initiatives tested in a new ABC News poll.

There is overwhelming backing for stricter fuel efficiency standards, as large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents alike line up behind the idea. There is also widespread support across party lines for a more controversial proposal in the battle over energy policy: offshore oil drilling.

Overall, 63 percent want the federal government to lift its embargo on new drilling in U.S. coastal waters. Nearly eight in 10 Republicans and seven in 10 independents back the idea, as do just over half of Democrats in the poll conducted in partnership with Stanford University and Planet Green.

The findings come after weeks of pressure from Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have demanded straight up or down votes on more domestic drilling. Faced with opposition from Democratic leaders, House Republicans on Friday completed the first week of what they hope to be an almost month-long protest on the chamber floor.

Since Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gaveled the summer session of the House to a close, Republicans have taken to the floor for speeches in a dimly lighted chamber with no microphones, legislative action or Congressional Record, and have held twice-daily news conferences to get their message out. McCain joined in on the calls for Democrats to reconvene the House and Senate from the campaign trail, urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow offshore drilling.

"House Republicans have remained on the floor speaking directly to the chorus of Americans filling the House Visitors Gallery requesting that Speaker Pelosi reconvene the House and allow a vote on comprehensive, common-sense approach to reducing the price of energy," GOP leaders wrote last week in a letter to all 236 House Democrats.

But Democrats have dismissed the past week as a media-driven stunt. They took note of Rep. David Davis (Tenn.), who was upset in Thursday's Republican primary by Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe. Roe ran ads accusing "Big Oil" of "trying to buy our seat in Congress," and noting that Davis had been a recipient of significant energy-company campaign cash.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) recently called offshore oil exploration "a real big, wet kiss" to oil companies who supported President Bush's campaigns. Democratic strategists said Roe's victory reassured them that if the theme of attacking Big Oil worked in an eastern Tennessee GOP primary, it should work in less conservative districts in the general election.

Pelosi has refused to yield on the issue, arguing repeatedly that the only short-term fix for gas prices is for Bush to release millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It's a position that Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has also embraced, along with some public flirtation with supporting a compromise bill allowing for more drilling.

"There is nothing that the Republicans are proposing that will have an impact on the price at the pump. Yeah, 10 years from now, 2 cents. But what we are saying is free our oil in 10 days, not 10 years. And that's what we will keep pushing," Pelosi told reporters before the August recess.

Republicans, particularly House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), have publicly embraced a number of conservation measures and attempts at finding renewable sources of energy along with their calls for more drilling offshore and in Western oil shale. Calling it the "all of the above" strategy, Republicans think that the broad approach gives them the high ground: supporting more domestic oil production in the short run and less energy consumption in the long term as the path to energy independence.

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