- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2001

President Bush's national energy plan enters a critical phase in Congress today, with House Republicans moving ahead on the proposal, Senate Democrats plotting its downfall and Vice President Richard B. Cheney planning a national town-hall meeting on the issue.
A House energy subcommittee will introduce a five-part energy plan today and vote on it tomorrow. The proposal to create a national policy, which Mr. Bush made a central campaign theme, gives renewed emphasis to nuclear power and clean coal, but does not address the president's plan to expand domestic oil and gas exploration.
The bipartisan bill is "very much in line with the president's energy policy," said Samantha Jordan, spokeswoman for subcommittee Chairman Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican and a member of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay's energy-action team.
A White House aide said the administration is making a "rejuvenated" push with Congress to pass the president's energy proposals and has not given up on expanded oil exploration. "It's the first quarter of a four-quarter game," the aide said.
But the president's plan faces a House that has balked at new drilling, a Democrat-led Senate that wants instead to emphasize conservation and alternative fuels, and a public that isn't paying close attention to the debate.
A Gallup poll released late last week showed that 47 percent of respondents believe the energy situation is "very serious," down from 58 percent in the same poll two months ago. Asked if they were following news reports of Mr. Bush's comprehensive energy plan, 54 percent of those polled said they were paying little or no attention.
Noting that gasoline prices have declined recently, a House Republican leadership aide said the energy debate "doesn't have quite the urgency that it once had."
To reclaim the public's attention, Mr. Cheney will hold a national town-hall meeting next Monday in Pittsburgh with Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, and possibly Gov. Tom Ridge and other elected officials. Several Cabinet members also will hold energy events on that day.
"The more people know about this plan, the more they like it," said Cheney spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss.
"The president has got a great story to tell on energy and the vice president is fantastic in the town-hall format," said White House spokesman Jim Wilkinson.
White House aides met with congressional Republican staffers yesterday to encourage congressmen and senators also to hold energy-related town-hall meetings and to sell the president's plan to the public. White House staff will meet today with Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, to plan Republican events across the country next week.
One White House source said the administration needs to do a better job "of humanizing the energy situation" and that Mr. Bush's commitment has not waned with declining gasoline prices.
"This president said from Day One that this is a long-term plan," the aide said. "Consumers are still vulnerable to wild fluctuations in energy prices."
Mr. Bush's plan faces a tougher time in the Senate, where Democratic leaders are determined to place more emphasis on conservation and renewable resources and to avoid taking the blame for not embracing the administration's plan. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, has scheduled hearings Thursday and Friday to review energy bills.
Senate Democrats already have held hearings to put pressure on the administration to enact energy price caps in California.

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