- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

President Bush yesterday acknowledged that falling energy prices are making it "tough to convince people to think long-term" about his energy plan, which Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott complained is languishing in Congress.

But the White House warned Americans against being lulled into a false sense of security by gasoline prices that regularly fall before spiking again. And the administration has decided to sidestep Congress by dispatching senior administration officials across the country to take the energy plan directly to the public.

"I think any time there's not an immediate problem that's apparent to people, it's tough to convince people to think long-term," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Oval Office. "But it's clear that there are warning signs."

The president cited California, where severe energy shortages have caused brownouts, although mild weather and federal conservation efforts have mitigated the problem somewhat.

Still, Mr. Bush cautioned against complacency.

"It should be worrisome to people that the state that's had the best conservation efforts is the state that's had brownouts," he said. "And even though there may not be a brownout today, it's an indication that we need an energy policy."

Mr. Lott agreed, but made no attempt to hide his frustration at the reluctance of Senate Democrats to begin work on the Bush energy plan, which entails boosting production and refinery capacity, the construction of new nuclear plants and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

"We don't have a commitment yet in the Senate as to when we would take up an energy-policy bill," the Mississippi Republican told reporters. "It had been my intent to bring it up in the Senate before the Fourth of July recess. Now we're into July. Time marches on, and we don't have anything scheduled."

Even the president's efforts at sidestepping Congress have run into problems. Vice President Richard B. Cheney was scheduled to kick off a string of town-hall meetings touting the energy plan yesterday, but came down with a case of laryngitis. He asked his wife, Lynne, to deliver an afternoon speech in Philadelphia so that his voice might be strong enough for him to participate in an evening town hall in Monroeville, Pa., east of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Cheney was accompanied by three Republican members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation, including Sen. Rick Santorum, who implicitly blamed former President Bill Clinton for the energy crisis. "Our current energy situation has resulted from years of shortsighted domestic policies and a nonexistent energy plan," he said.

While Mr. Cheney and his entourage were stumping in Pennsylvania, a trio of Republican congressmen from Texas staged their own town-hall meeting in Houston. Reps. Tom DeLay, Kevin Brady and John Culberson planned to discuss how the GOP-controlled House, unlike the Democrat-controlled Senate, will act on the Bush energy plan.

But while Republicans tried to create a sense of urgency around the Bush plan, the press argued that falling gas prices have left the president without a mandate for change. The Energy Department reported yesterday that the nationwide average price of gasoline was $1.41 per gallon for regular unleaded. That is a decrease of 2.4 cents from a week ago and 13.3 cents from a year ago.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, "Clearly, more people focus on problems in energy when they're in the middle of something extraordinary. But as the history of energy in the United States has shown, these trends don't stay in one direction for very long."

He added: "While many politicians have alternated between denial and blame, President Bush thinks the best course of the nation is to stay steady and true."

•Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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