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House GOP raps energy impasse

- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

House Republicans say they will continue to interrupt their summer break this week to hold daily protests at the Capitol in their ongoing push to expand domestic oil drilling, insisting the "American people are with us."

"My constituents are wondering, 'Why isn't the Congress back in session, dealing with the energy crisis?'" Ohio said at a Republican news conference Friday outside the House chamber.

"We're here, and we're going to continue to be here, day after day, until the speaker calls us back, because that's what our constituents are demanding," he said.

Republicans - upset that Democratic leaders adjourned for a five-week recess without holding a vote to expand drilling - have been staging daily protest speeches on the House floor to demand that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, call the House back into session to work on an energy plan.

The protest began minutes after the House adjourned Aug. 1, when a few dozen Republicans refused to leave the chamber. From Monday through Friday, Republican leaders rotated 10 to 20 members to the Capitol each day for several hours of floor speeches.

Because the House isn't in session and the speeches aren't considered formal legislative business, the protests aren't televised on Capitol Hill staffers who venture inside the chamber, which remains open to the public through the summer.

To give visitors a better view, Republicans have opened the chamber floor to the public, which normally is restricted to the balcony.

Although the chamber lights are dimmed, the microphones muted and the cameras shuttered, the Republicans say their message is spreading and that their populist-styled "talk-a-thons" are resonating with voters at home.

"I just returned from the farm fields of Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican.

Former Georgia Republican, has lent his support, appearing with the protesting lawmakers at a news conference at the Capitol on Wednesday.

"I'm very proud of the House Republicans. What they are doing is clearly, as you can see today, beginning to increase the debate and the awareness and the concern about more energy now [and] to have lower prices," said Mr. Gingrich, who didn't join the protest on the House floor.

Mr. Gingrich said he expects public pressure will force Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress to allow a stand-alone vote on expanded drilling when lawmakers return in early September.

Democratic leaders say the Republican protests are nothing more than a contrived publicity stunt, and have no plans to call the House back into session early.

"A smattering of House Republicans are engaging in stunts on the House floor in a transparent political effort to manufacture headlines," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said last week. "Meanwhile, most of their Republican colleagues returned home burdened with trying to explain why they blocked efforts to combat high gas prices."

Democrats blamed Republicans for Congress' inability to pass meaningful legislation to deal with the energy crisis, saying House Republicans in recent months have rejected more than a dozen measures intended to reduce the price of gas. The list includes bills to curb speculation in the oil futures market, tax breaks for the development of alternative fuels, and a crackdown on gasoline price gouging.

Democrats have remained steadfast in their opposition to Republican calls to expand offshore drilling, open the Alaska for oil exploration, and lift a moratorium on oil-shale production.

But Democrats insist they aren't against expanded drilling, saying oil companies already hold leases on 68 million acres in the West and western Gulf of Mexico that they're not using.

Democrats add that Republican proposals to drill on protected lands would result in a savings of only 2 cents per gallon of gas 10 years from now.

"While a very small band of your colleagues remain on the House floor to discuss gas prices, their constituents deserve to know why their representatives in Congress have failed to support serious, responsible [energy] proposals," Mrs. Pelosi wrote to Mr. Boehner last week. "Americans deserve real solutions, not rhetoric."

Republicans say they too support the development of alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and biofuels, and other Democratic priorities such as plug-in electric cars. But a central component of any comprehensive energy plan, Republicans insist, also must include more drilling.

"There are lots of options, and drilling for oil is not the silver bullet," America. We must explore now."