- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Republicans yesterday stood firm against price caps on wholesale electricity to fix Californias energy crisis, even as Democrats threatened to force the issue to a vote.

Republicans say price caps are an artificial fix and part of a blame game Democrats are playing to avoid addressing the lack of an energy policy under the Clinton administration.

Sen. Trent Lott, minority leader and Mississippi Republican, said Democrats should "look in the mirror" to affix blame. The Democrats´ solution of price caps "does not produce any more energy, and as a matter of fact, it undermines the future ability to have an adequate supply," he said.

Vice President Richard B. Cheney also met with California Democrats and Republicans yesterday to discuss the issue. Afterward, Democrats said at a news conference that all proposals for relief fell on "deaf ears."

"It was clear his mind was made up before he entered the room," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman.

Rep. George Miller said the state delegation made a "strong and forceful plea to the administration, but there was no response."

"The vice president didn´t understand a word we were saying," added Rep. Sam Farr.

A spokesman for Mr. Cheney said that the bipartisan meeting was "cordial," but that the administration feels strongly that price caps are not the answer.

"Price caps will neither increase supply nor decrease demand, and are likely to do the opposite," said spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss.

"Price caps will in no way alleviate the threat of blackouts and are likely to exacerbate the problem," Mrs. Weiss said.

Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, California Republican, said there was a good exchange of ideas between Democrats and the vice president, but said it was not without partisan rancor.

"I thought it was a good dialogue. I thought it was very well accepted by the vice president," Mr. Cunningham said. "[Democratic Rep.] Maxine Waters and a couple others had to stand up and make political jabs and statements, but overall I thought it was productive."

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, House minority leader and Missouri Democrat, is threatening to file a discharge petition to force from the House Commerce and Energy Committee a bill that contains a wholesale price cap on electricity for California.

The measure was shelved last week after negotiations collapsed between Democrats and Republicans over short-term relief. Republicans said Democrats abandoned negotiations, but Mr. Gephardt said the measure stalled because of the "failed policy and failed leadership" of Republicans.

"I think Republicans try to find a scapegoat for every one of their failures," Mr. Gephardt said at a separate Capitol Hill news conference yesterday.

Republicans say they have the votes to "roll Democrats" on price caps, but have not done so "in the spirit of bipartisanship," said Ken Johnson, spokesman for Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican.

"Republicans are more interested in enacting a common-sense energy policy than scoring points with voters on the six o´clock news," Mr. Johnson said.

"Frankly, the strategy on the other side is to demagogue this issue to death," Mr. Johnson said.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, called Mr. Gephardt´s discharge petition threat a political ploy.

"Obviously, the minority leader here thinks he´s got a hot political card and he´s anxious to play it," Mr. Armey said.

But he also said the House won´t go for it.

"I don´t think they´re going to be taken in by what is a short-sighted political gambit like a discharge petition on price controls. I just don´t think you´re going to find a large number of members taken in by that."

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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