House Republicans, frustrated by high gasoline prices, renewed their call yesterday for oil drilling in an Alaskan wilderness and relaxation of some environmental rules to encourage fuel production.
But with no indication the Senate will drop its objections to those measures, Democrats accused the Republicans of election-year posturing and derided them for passing legislation that is indistinguishable from measures the House approved earlier in this Congress.
Particularly frustrating to House Republicans is that several northeastern GOP senators are helping to block the House initiatives, largely on environmental grounds. "I'd like to believe they are misguided," Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said while acknowledging that his party is partly to blame for the impasse.
The House voted 244 to 178 to approve the same GOP-drafted energy policy that it sent to the Senate last fall, only to see it languish. A key sticking point is the House provision that would grant liability protection to makers of MTBE, a gasoline additive that has contaminated some groundwater and is thought to cause cancer.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said a bipartisan group of senators will continue to block the House measure because of the MTBE provision. House leaders, he said, "continue to hold compromise hostage to ideology."
The House also voted 229 to 186 for a bill that would streamline the licensing and siting procedures for alternative energy projects on federal lands. Lawmakers said the Senate is unlikely to comply.
The House is scheduled to vote on other energy-related bills today that supporters and opponents agree are unlikely to win Senate approval. One would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, which has been proposed, and rejected, for years.
Throughout yesterday's debate, Republicans said their bills would help make the United States more energy-independent by encouraging domestic production.
"The House-backed energy plan enhances conservation, research, and development and provides for security and diversity in the energy supply for the American people," said Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.). "While the Democrats have hamstrung the energy bill in the Senate, gas prices have risen, and the Northeast was struck with the largest blackout in history . . . the American people wait for action."
But Democrats said the GOP plan would do nothing to reduce gas prices or significantly improve energy independence. Republicans, they said, care more about posturing for special interests than finding compromises that can become law.
"We ought to be sitting down at the table together, Republicans and Democrats, trying to solve these problems," House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters. Instead, "we are simply recycling old bills for political points."
As the arguments went on, legislators reached for the same analogies to make opposite points. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) issued a statement saying: "In many ways, this legislative dance is like the movie 'Groundhog Day.' The House continues to pass common-sense legislation over and over, only to see it stalled by obstructionists in the Senate wanting to play politics."
An hour later, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said on the floor: "Lately I feel like Congress is caught in the movie 'Groundhog Day' . . . [in which] Bill Murray's character relived the same day over and over. As far as I can tell, that's what we're doing here in the House" by reapproving doomed legislation.