- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The House and Senate will soon begin final negotiations on President Bush's energy package amid concerns presidential posturing may upstage the process.
Senate Democrats broke an agreement to name only members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to the final conference, and instead appointed two leading Democrat contenders for the 2004 election: Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
In a statement announcing the negotiators, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat and committee chairman, expressed concern that the final policy discussions will turn political.
Mr. Bingaman was the only committee member appointed to the select panel, while the House stuck to tradition and chose all members from the Resources Committee, plus House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.
"Chairman Bingaman has said that given the complexity of the issues, the committee jurisdictions and the surrounding politics in an election year, if we don't buckle down to a lot of hard work fairly soon, we risk not having an energy bill at all in this Congress," the statement said.
The debate will focus on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and possible adverse affects on the environment and Alaska caribou. Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lieberman strongly oppose drilling and filibustered the issue in the Senate until it was finally removed.
House Republicans say they hope the debate stays on topic but are prepared if talks break down into partisan bickering, or what is being called "the Sierra Club sweepstakes," if the Democrats instead use the issue to score political points with environmentalist groups.
"If they start playing politics with the issue rather than paying attention to the substance on the policy, I don't think we will hesitate to remind people what their true motivations are," said one Republican aide.
"But we're going to start the conference hoping everyone comes to the table with an open mind to produce a meaningful bill the president can sign," the aide said.
A "meaningful bill" must include increased conservation, production and use of renewable energy, said Rep. James V. Hansen, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Resources Committee.
"We are waging a war against terror while buying oil from some of the very nations who oppose us in that war. That is sheer folly," Mr. Hansen said.
Mr. DeLay has organized a House energy action team to meet regularly to ensure that Republican priorities are included in the bill.
"This energy bill is important for our economy, our president and our national security," Mr. DeLay said.
Supporters of drilling point to a recent poll by Wirthlin Worldwide, which shows 84 percent of 1,000 respondents believe a comprehensive national energy plan should be a high priority to help recover from the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Conducted May 30 through June 3, the poll also shows 68 percent agree that reducing dependence on foreign oil would make the United States less vulnerable to foreign governments. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
House Republicans want to televise the final negotiations, which is open to the press but never before to cameras. However, still in dispute is whether the conference will be led by the House or Senate.
"There's going to be a whole lot of hairspray if they televise it with those presidential candidates," said a Republican Senate staffer.

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