Hill GOP bucks Bush on oil pol­icy; votes for pause on fill­ing re­serve

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By S.A. Miller

Capi­tol Hill Repub­li­cans on May 13 be­grudg­ingly broke with Pres­i­dent Bush over oil pol­icy, join­ing a lop­sided vote to stop the gov­ern­ment from fill­ing the Strate­gic Pe­tro­leum Re­serve, in hopes of slightly re­duc­ing sky­high gaso­line prices.

Cog­nizant of mas­sive Repub­li­can de­fec­tions, Mr. Bush re­port­edly is re­think­ing his op­po­si­tion to the plan, which Democrats pushed in an elec­tion-year ef­fort to re­duce prices at the pump.

Repub­li­can lead­ers at­tempted to re­cast the vote as a ref­er­en­dum on sup­ply-side fixes to the coun­try’s en­ergy woes, such as the party’s pro­posal to curb de­pen­dence on for­eign oil with more off­shore oil rigs and drilling in the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge.

But Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, said the over­whelm­ing sup­port for the mea­sure demon­strates that Democrats “led the charge against one of the root causes of sky­rock­et­ing oil and gas prices.”

“In­stead of hid­ing bar­rels of oil in the nearly full Strate­gic Pe­tro­leum Re­serve, we want to put them on the mar­ket to in­crease sup­ply and lower prices,” Mr. Reid said. “It is a good first step, but with oil and gas prices con­tin­u­ing to break record highs ev­ery day, much more needs to be done.”

Mr. Reid en­cour­aged Repub­li­cans to aban­don their “drill, drill, drill” en­ergy plan, and to back the Democrats’ pro­pos­als to end tax breaks for the oil in­dus­try and in­crease spend­ing to de­velop re­new­able en­ergy.

Se­nate Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tion for more do­mes­tic oil drilling died May 13 in a 56-42 pro­ce­dural vote, fall­ing 18 votes short of the 60 re­quired to sur­vive.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, voted for the mea­sure. He said he did not think it would lower gaso­line prices but rea­soned that it would un­der­mine Democrats’ ar­gu­ments against more do­mes­tic drilling.

“By them bring­ing this bill up, they ad­mit that sup­ply is a prob­lem. They’ve done noth­ing to im­prove the sup­ply. All they’ve done is block us for the last 13 years,” he said of Democrats’ long-stand­ing op­po­si­tion to ex­panded do­mes­tic oil ex­plo­ration.

The Strate­gic Pe­tro­leum Re­serve, which was cre­ated in the af­ter­math of the 1973 oil em­bargo, is the world’s largest stock­pile of gov­ern­ment-owned emer­gency crude oil.

Mr. Bush, who a week ear­lier de­rided the plan to halt ship­ments to the re­serve as in­ef­fec­tive, on May 13 said he will re-ex­am­ine the pro­posal.

“We’ll look at that,” Mr. Bush said in an in­ter­view with Politico. “I have an­a­lyzed the is­sue, and I don’t think it would af­fect price. The pur­chases for SPR ac­count for one-tenth of one per­cent of global de­mand.”

A White House spokesman said that af­ter stop­ping de­posits for the sum­mer of 2006 af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, the White House con­cluded that it did not have an ef­fect.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­posits about 70,000 bar­rels of oil a day into the re­serve, which is now 97 per­cent full. The U.S. im­ports about 12 mil­lion bar­rels a day and con­sumes about 20 mil­lion bar­rels a day. The world­wide de­mand is 85 mil­lion bar­rels a day.

White House of­fi­cials said de­posits to the re­serve have to be mea­sured against global de­mand and not just U.S. con­sump­tion.

Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mex­ico, who is step­ping down this year, said on the Se­nate floor be­fore the vote that he wanted his Repub­li­can col­leagues to know he switched his po­si­tion from op­po­nent to sup­porter of the mea­sure in the past few weeks be­cause of record-break­ing oil prices.

“Make no bones about it,” Mr. Domenici said. “This is no big en­ergy pol­icy. This is one lit­tle thing we can do, and I think we ought to go ahead and do it.”

The Se­nate bill to stop ship­ments to the oil re­serve for the rest of the year passed 97-1 with Repub­li­can Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado cast­ing the sole vote against it.

Mr. Allard, who is re­lin­quish­ing his seat at year’s end, de­nounced the leg­is­la­tion as “a dis­ser­vice to the Amer­i­can peo­ple” be­cause it did noth­ing to in­crease do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion or de­crease de­pen­dence on for­eign oil.

An iden­ti­cal House bill passed 385-25 with Repub­li­cans cast­ing all the op­pos­ing votes.

The leg­is­la­tion will be de­layed in reach­ing the pres­i­dent’s desk be­cause the Se­nate mea­sure passed as an amend­ment to a flood-in­sur­ance bill that must be rec­on­ciled with a com­pan­ion House bill be­fore a fi­nal vote.

Mr. Reid tried to pass a stand­alone bill to tem­po­rar­ily stop ship­ments to the pe­tro­leum re­serve.

The House was sched­uled later in the day to take up an iden­ti­cal stand-alone bill that could have been sent di­rectly to Mr. Bush’s desk, but a Repub­li­can sen­a­tor blocked the move.

Jon Ward con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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