Democrats in Congress promised to make energy policy a high priority when they returned after the Independence Day break. Instead, they have quietly scrubbed the schedule of any votes on their energy bill, afraid Republicans will make them vote on increased domestic oil production and force them to choose between popular sentiment for drilling and their environmentalist allies. Their strategy? Well, the Hill chooses a good quote:
“Right now, our strategy on gas prices is ‘Drive small cars and wait for the wind,’ ” said a Democratic aide.
Before the break, Democrats heralded two bills that supposedly showed their leadership on energy: an anti-speculator measure and a “use it or lose it” bill that forced oil companies to drill on federal leases — whether or not they had found oil yet — or lose the leases immediately. They attacked Republicans who opposed both bills as oil-company lackeys, but the truth is that neither bill produces a single drop of oil to solve the supply crisis.
Now, both bills have disappeared off of the legislative calendar, and the Republicans have ideas of their own. Politico reports that Mitch McConnell has a plan to peel off moderate Democrats in the Senate to get approval for drilling by combining the effort with conservation mandates. He already has five Democrats ready to vote for more drilling, and if he can find a few more, he can effectively sideline the Slip-Up from Searchlight and keep him from getting ill:
GOP senators believe that a number of moderate Democrats would be open to legislation that balances increased energy exploration with conservation. If they’re right, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could lose their grip on energy policy, and the Republicans could score a major coup on the No. 1 issue on the minds of voters.
At least five Senate Democrats support more domestic oil and gas exploration, and McConnell is sweetening the deal to make the sale to other moderates: The Kentucky Republican is pushing a package of incentives to boost conservation as well as a measure creating stricter enforcement of commodities markets in exchange for more offshore oil and gas drilling.
Moderate Democrats have now begun asking for a “Gang of 14” on energy. Ben Nelson (D-NE) has taken the lead in this demand, and he has nine other Senators from both parties willing to join him. This amounts to a rebellion against Harry Reid and his knee-jerk opposition to increased domestic production of oil and coal. His “sick” speech may have been the last straw for Democrats who see the American public demanding more domestic production and recognize the political danger that approaches in November for obstructionists.
Of course, the Democrats always have the option of going into November with the slogan, “Drive smaller cars and wait for the wind.” I’m sure we’ll see television ads and bumper stickers highlighting that strategy. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they will be produced by Republicans to demonstrate the utter bankruptcy of Democratic energy policy.