- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2008

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama on Friday withdrew his opposition to additional offshore oil drilling, essentially embracing his rival’s energy stance, which is credited in part with pumping up Sen. John McCain’s poll numbers.

Mr. Obama also called for a windfall profits tax on oil companies to fund $1,000 emergency rebate checks for Americans besieged by high energy costs after Congress left town Friday for a five-week vacation without passing energy legislation.

The Illinois senator, while campaigning in Florida, said he would accept limited additional offshore oil drilling if that’s what it takes to overcome gridlock and enact a comprehensive energy policy to foster fuel-efficient autos and develop alternate energy sources.

“My interest is in making sure we’ve got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Palm Beach Post.

“If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well-thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage - I don’t want to be so rigid that we can’t get something done.”

But Mr. McCain highlighted Mr. Obama’s past opposition to offshore drilling and said his opponent’s new stance did not go far enough anyway.

“We need oil drilling and we need it now offshore. He has consistently opposed it. He has opposed nuclear power. He has opposed reprocessing. He has opposed storage,” Mr. McCain told reporters.

The McCain campaign team also issued a statement in which spokesman Tucker Bounds said it was “clear that members of both parties are following John McCain’s leadership toward an ‘all of the above´ approach on energy that includes nuclear, alternative energy and offshore drilling.”

“We hope Barack Obama will realize that his ongoing opposition to John McCain´s realistic energy solutions and additional offshore drilling is wrong,” Mr. Bounds said.

Mr. McCain, who earlier had dropped his opposition to offshore drilling and still opposes drilling in new Alaskan lands, has frequently criticized Mr. Obama for his opposition to drilling as gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon. Polls indicate these attacks have helped Mr. McCain gain ground on Mr. Obama.

On Capitol Hill, frustration over the energy issue boiled over in the House, as dozens of Republicans, angry over Democrats’ resistance to open up new areas for drilling, continued to occupy the chamber for several hours Friday after the assembly was adjourned at 11:23 a.m. for its summer break.

The group, which continued to occupy the chamber after some of the lights were shut off, demanded that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, call the chamber back into session in order to hammer out a strategy to help lower the price of gas at the pump.

“I’ve never been prouder of the Republican leadership of this Congress,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican. “A majority of Americans believe it’s unconscionable for Congress to take a five-week paid vacation while Americans are struggling under the weight of $4 a gallon gas.”

The 5 1/2-hour talk-a-thon ended about 5 p.m.

Repeated attempts to pass energy bills in both houses of Congress have failed in recent weeks, with the impasse centered on Republican demands that any energy plan include a provision to expand domestic oil drilling to areas currently off-limits, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

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