Democrats to allow drilling vote

Lawmakers head back to Washington this week, and with the GOP’s rallying cries - “Drill, baby, drill!” - still echoing around the rafters of St Paul’s Xcel Center, energy is foremost on everyone’s mind. Congressional Republicans are leading the charge, touting an “all of the above” energy plan that would lift the moratorium on off-shore drilling, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration, and use the proceeds to fund “alternative” energy sources like coal, tar and shale. (The bill would also extend tax credits for genuinely clean energy sources like wind and solar.) 


The GOP clearly feels it’s found a winning strategy: lawmakers have been pushing the plan hard, holding sit-in protests on the floor of the House and comparing their efforts - apparently without irony - to the Boston Tea Party and the struggle of the Founding Fathers. (“This could be America’s greatest hour,” gasped one breathless congressman.)


That’s hyperbole and bluster: offshore drilling is a sideshow that would do little to alleviate America’s energy crisis, while tar and shale are expensive, inefficient and filthy alternatives to oil. Still, polls show that many voters now back the GOP’s drill-everywhere plan, so congressional Democrats have been forced to hammer out a compromise.


The party leadership now appears likely to allow a vote on offshore drilling as early as this Thursday - but will wrap the measure into a genuinely progressive energy package designed to boost the renewable-energy sector, establish new efficiency rules for buildings, and overhaul tax provisions for oil companies. That’s essentially an attempt to call the GOP’s bluff, forcing lawmakers to show their true colors in a vote that would allow drilling, but would also boost genuinely clean energy at the expense of Big Oil. 


In practice, there’s little chance of a bipartisan deal being worked out before the election; even if Congress passed energy legislation, Bush has said he’ll veto anything that strays from the GOP’s drill-here-drill-now template. “They should go ahead and pass a clean bill,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “We've given them the road map to do so.” 


Still, Democrats - both in Congress and in the Obama camp - are hoping that their new strategy will allow them to underscore the GOP’s ties to Big Oil and refocus the energy debate on issues like renewables and energy efficiency, where Dems have a clear upper hand. That’s a solid strategy - but having invested so much political capital in offshore drilling, it’s hard to see the GOP giving up their drill-drill-drill sloganeering without a fight.


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