Senate Republicans: None shall pass until drilling commences

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has laid down the gauntlet to Majority Leader Harry Reid on energy, according to The Hill.  Following the efforts of Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, the Republican caucus has promised to obstruct any bills not pertaining to energy until the Senate votes on removing the remaining restrictions on off-shore drilling.  It promises to make the Senate the focus of high-profile political brinksmanship, and puts the Democrats in a tight spot with fuel prices impacting every aspect of the American economy:

Senate Republicans have threatened to block nearly all other bills pending before the August recess if Democrats refuse to vote with them on expanding offshore drilling.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said bills that do not pertain to energy can wait until after the August recess, with gas prices now surpassing $4 per gallon. McConnell and top Republicans indicated Wednesday they would oppose any procedural votes to take up other legislation, which require 60 votes to succeed. …

Following swift Senate action on the narrow energy bill, Reid wanted the Senate to approve a massive defense authorization bill, an overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, legislation to protect reporters’ sources, an extension of expiring energy tax incentives, and a major package of 33 bills held up by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

But Republicans are planning to keep the Senate on the energy issue until their demands are resolved. The massive housing-rescue package might be the only other measure that gets valuable floor time before the August recess.

Reid wanted to buy off enough Republicans to keep them from forcing a vote on drilling. As I noted yesterday, the omnibus spending bill Reid has pushed includes a large number of bills co-sponsored by Republicans. Coburn told me yesterday that he thought he had enough Republican votes to stop the bill, and McConnell’s actions later proved him right.

It’s not even clear that Reid can keep all of the Democrats on board. Coburn predicted that Reid would whip his caucus hard to keep all 51 Democrats behind him while he tried to bribe ten Republicans away, but fuel prices have made Reid’s obstructionism on drilling a losing cause.  No one wants to go back home in August to explain to constituents why they blocked drilling in the OCS and the interior while people are paying twice as much for gas as they did before Reid and Nancy Pelosi took control of Congress.  Democrats know that Republicans are poised to expose this on a national basis, and that the electorate is angry enough about Congressional inaction on energy policy to listen.

Two-thirds of all voters support drilling in the OCS and going after shale in the interior.  Reid’s “coal and oil make us sick” nonsense has backfired.  Do Democrats want to explain how they supported that with a national election around the corner?

The GOP has a winning hand on energy.  Democrats have obstructed domestic production for decades while promising that alternative energy sources were just around the corner, and the bill for their short-sighted policies just came due.  Reid will have little choice but to accede to a vote on drilling — and expect it to have overwhelming bipartisan support when it occurs.