Dems agree on offshore oil drilling vote

Capitol Hill Democrats have agreed to vote on expanding oil drilling off the U.S. coast, but have drawn guffaws from Republicans after proposing a second economic-stimulus package.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he is ready to take up at least two proposals that would allow limited oil and gas drilling 50 miles off Florida’s Gulf Coast and in the Atlantic Ocean off Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, as well as a broader Republican drilling bill.

“We are offering Republicans multiple opportunities to vote for increased drilling,” said Mr. Reid, addressing what has become the biggest energy issue in Congress as well as in the presidential campaign.

House Democratic leaders also say a limited expansion of domestic drilling will be included in an overall energy bill to be introduced later this week. The plan would include money for the development of renewable energy sources - such as wind, solar and biofuels - that would be paid for with oil royalties.

The measure also would include a “use it or lose it” provision that would force oil companies to surrender oil and gas leases on federal land they’re not drilling on and to prohibit those companies from acquiring new leases.

“If [Republicans] want to drill offshore, we’ll say, ‘OK,’ ” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “You want to drill in the outer continental shelf? Let’s have a discussion and a change of the relationship between our oil, which is owned by the American people, the desire of Big Oil for us to subsidize their drilling, and us not to - the American people not getting the benefit of the profits.”

But House Republicans called the Democrats’ proposals “gimmicks,” and instead have insisted on a stand-alone vote on oil drilling.

“Speaker Pelosi’s so-called ‘energy’ bill will do nothing to help our energy crisis,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican. “It will multiply red tape and make it almost impossible to lower already skyrocketing oil costs.”

Democrats in both houses of Congress Tuesday reiterated an earlier promise to introduce a second economic-stimulus package this year, saying the nation’s soft economy needs another federal government boost.

“We need to do it as soon as we can. … We need to jump-start the economy by having a second stimulus” measure, said Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat.

Mr. Casey said that while the year’s first stimulus package helped keep the slumping economy from sinking lower, it lacked several components critical, including unemployment insurance.

“It was good we did it, but …we didn’t do a couple of things that would have made it better,” he said. “We have to try to make up for that now.”

But the White House and congressional Republicans say they aren’t convinced a second federal subsidy program would push the economy forward, and instead want Congress to pass other pieces of legislation, such as free-trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, to help the economy.

“We’re not talking about a stimulus package,” said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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