- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

The House yesterday failed to pass a measure to promote expansion of U.S. oil-refining capacity but did approve a measure to impose federal criminal and civil penalties on any energy company caught price gouging.

The refinery measure was brought to the House floor without going through committee and, thus, required a two-thirds majority to pass. It fell about 50 votes short, with 237 “yes” votes and 185 votes against. All the “no” votes were from Democrats.

“The 185 Democrats who voted no on good legislation meant to bring relief at the pump sent a message to the American people that, as far as they are concerned, high gasoline prices are here to stay,” said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, said the vote flew in the face of promises that Democrats made a few months ago.

“It is frustrating for me to sit in the White House talking to President Bush about bipartisan energy policy and have Democrats pledge to work with us and then have 94 percent of them vote against our policies,” Mr. Barton said.

He said the committee would spend the next six weeks looking for solutions.

The House, meanwhile, voted 389-34 to approve a bill that would allow the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and punish companies colluding to keep gas prices up, but that victory was largely hollow because a bill passed in October did much the same thing.

“It is similar, but with a few changes that would not supercede the price-gouging laws of the 23 states that currently have them, but allows them to use either their laws or go to the Federal Trade Commission,” said Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican.

Republican lawmakers are scrambling to find legislation to help consumers with rising gas prices, but cannot reach an agreement on many of them.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, outright rejected a proposal from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, to pass legislation that would give Americans a $100 rebate in response to escalating gas prices.

And the conflicting policies of President Bush — who said this week that he would stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to put more gasoline in the market, two years after it was originally proposed — and his statements that he would veto any emergency spending proposals for farmers, sparked sharp criticism from Democrats.

Democrats say Republican proposals are not innovative and largely are rehashed measures that passed last year in the comprehensive energy bill.

“There has only been one application for a new refinery since 1976, so the permit process is not the problem, and the gas act is the same bill that was introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak [Michigan Democrat] two years ago,” said a Democrat leadership staffer.

Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, and others yesterday chastised the administration for burdening farmers and consumers and seized on Mr. Frist’s $100 gas-voucher proposal.

“Farming costs have gone up $24 an acre due to higher energy costs since 2001. That’s $2,400 for 100 acres … I have too much respect for farmers to support that,” Mr. Durbin said.

Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, said his members in Illinois tell him that it costs “$600 to fill up their tractors with diesel.”

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