- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

DENVER | House Democratic Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday that Republican John McCain wouldn’t necessarily be a bad president, but his problem is he has embraced President Bush’s policies.

“I don’t know that Senator McCain would be a bad president,” Mr. Hoyer told The Washington Times. “But if he pursued, as he says he’s going to, the same policies that President Bush has pursued, he would have a bad administration, a bad result.”

A continuation of those policies, he said, would mean “an America less economically successful than it ought to be, less job creation than it ought to be, less successful in partnering with our allies around the world.”

In a wide-ranging interview at the Democratic convention here, Mr. Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, also said he expects his chamber to vote next month on legislation that would take inventory of the nation’s oil reserves, an incremental step toward more of the offshore oil drilling that Republicans have been pressing for months.

“I see a vote coming on ensuring that America utilizes its natural resources to a much greater degree,” he said.

Democratic leaders have been arguing that more offshore drilling wouldn’t help in the near term, and said oil companies should instead focus on drilling in areas where they already hold leases. But according to public polls, two-thirds of Americans favor more oil drilling and Republicans staged a protest on the House floor demanding a vote on drilling.

Mr. Hoyer, in a turnabout from the Democrats’ earlier positions, said Congress will look at finding new resources “that are available to us, and combine a responsible way towards developing those resources.”

He said he doubts that will include drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is being pushed by some Republicans, though not Mr. McCain.

“I don’t know that ANWR will be part of that inventory, but very frankly, the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, which has as much oil, is right next door to ANWR and is not controversial,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, also has said she would be open to a package that included more drilling, though she said she doubted it would make much difference.

“I am prepared to preside over legislation that will take a comprehensive approach to it. Include [drilling] and let it compete, and seeing where we come down on it, and if that, in fact, is a good alternative, then that is something we should do,” she said.

Support for expanded offshore drilling is a bipartisan matter in some parts of the country, including Virginia. Sen. Jim Webb on Tuesday told Virginia’s delegation to the Democratic convention that his party should have taken the lead on the issue.

“I think one of the great mistakes we made in terms of political strategy before this latest recess was not taking on the Republican Party when they started talking about offshore drilling,” said Mr. Webb, himself a former Republican.

Mr. Webb said his Democratic colleagues should determine how much oil is available offshore before engaging in debates about drilling, and grant states the power to block drilling if they choose.

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