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Obama accepts offshore drilling

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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.

Democrats oppose the idea, saying oil companies already have millions of available drilling acres on land they are not using.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a wide-ranging Democratic measure that called for extending tax breaks to an array of renewable-energy entrepreneurs.

Senate Democrats said the tax breaks for renewable energy would lead to increased production from renewable-energy sources, such as wind, solar and battery power, and would lessen the nation's dependency on oil. They added the bill would help create thousands of new jobs in the renewable-energy industry.

While Republican leaders said they generally supported the tax breaks, they opposed the bill in part because the tax credits would be offset with tax increases elsewhere in the budget.

Both chambers in recent days also failed to pass plans designed to counter oil-market speculation when Democrats failed to heed a Republican request for a vote on proposals to increase oil and gas drilling.

On Friday, a bipartisan coalition of 10 senators floated the idea of opening up new offshore drilling areas.

The group, dubbed the "Gang of 10," announced a sweeping energy proposal designed to lower gasoline prices - a plan that includes opening up new offshore drilling areas off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Drilling would be excluded within 50 miles of the coast.

Their plan called for increased efforts to move the nation's motor vehicle fleets to fuels other than gasoline and diesel. To ease gas prices in the interim, the proposal includes significant conservation provisions, consumer tax credits and measures to increase domestic production.

The group members, who had been meeting for several weeks outside of party leadership, say they hope their compromise will generate a groundswell of support among the American people as well as their colleagues in Congress and lead to the development of comprehensive legislation to tackle the nation's energy crisis.

"This growing [energy] crisis undermines the budgets of families across the nation [and] Congress needs to take immediate action," said North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat who along with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, spearheaded the plan. "This is not a Democratic issue, or a Republican issue - it is an issue that affects all of us."

In a written statement released by his campaign, Mr. Obama welcomed the Gang of 10 proposal.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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