On Energy, Democrats' Tank Is Only Half Full
House Democrats began this week determined to pass several measures to address the spiraling costs of gasoline. While Republicans claimed none of the majority's bills would really do much to bring prices down, Democrats hoped they would be able to go home for the July 4 recess able to point to a list of accomplishments on the topic.
So how'd they do? Depending on how you look at it, Democrats left town Thursday with the tank either half full, or half empty. There were four bills Democrats planned to pass this week, three under suspension of the rules (meaning they needed a two-thirds majority to pass). Overall, the majority went 2 for 4:
Price-Gouging: This bill would empower the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to go after anyone who sells gasoline at "unconscionably excessive" prices, part of Democrats' case that the fuel market is distorted and not as competitive as it should be. Republicans argued that there is no evidence that price gouging is occurring. The GOP mostly held together on the vote, and the bill failed on a 276-146 vote -- six "ayes" short of a two-thirds majority.
Mass Transit: This measure -- the only one of the four considered under regular order -- would give increased grants to pay for reduced mass transit fares across the country, part of Democrats' efforts to get more people to leave their cars at home. Republicans suggested that the bill would only benefit urban residents, while people who live in the suburbs and rural areas would be left out. The measure succeeded anyway, 322-98, after a vote on a GOP motion to recommit that would have redirected the money to school bus systems struggling to deal with high fuel costs. The motion failed mostly along party lines.
Oil Speculators: This bill would direct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to go after oil speculators, whom Democrats and some experts suspect are helping to drive up the costs of fuel. The GOP was more skeptical of this argument but didn't put up much of a flight on the floor. The measure passed 402-19 on Thursday.
"Use it or Lose It": This measure was designed to force oil companies either to drill on their existing leases or else give them up, as Democrats argue that new land shouldn't be opened up for drilling when companies aren't drilling on the millions of acres that are currently available. Republicans disputed the numbers Democrats used and the idea that companies are sitting on land that could be tapped easily and quickly for oil. On Thursday, the House voted 223-195 for the measure, well short of the required two-thirds, with only 11 Republicans voting in favor and 19 against.
By week's end, Democrats were bragging about the bills they did get passed and vowing to hold the GOP accountable in November for the measures the minority blocked. For their part, Republicans took pride in their rare successes at beating back Democratic measures on the floor. And they still have Democrats on the defensive on the issue of opening more land to oil drilling; three of the four of the above bills were on the floor this week under suspension at least in part because Democrats did not want to give the Republicans a chance to make mischief with amendments, particularly on the drilling issue.
The debate over energy will resume after next week's break, by which time both parties will have re-filled their tanks for more battles.
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