- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

House Republicans say they are ready to take on Senate Democrats who are preventing an energy bill from reaching the president’s desk.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, has reactivated the House Energy Action Team (HEAT) — a group of 16 Republicans — to generate support for the House version of the bill and expose Democrats they say are opposing the measure.

“If Senate Democrats refuse to provide the votes to secure America’s energy, the House will simply turn up the HEAT,” Mr. DeLay said. “We can’t afford to pass the buck or throw in the towel when people in this country may pay up to $3 for a gallon of gas this summer.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has been saying for nearly a month that he is working to win enough votes to end debate on the bill and bring it to the Senate floor.

But House Republicans say they are becoming irritated by the delay and beginning to doubt Mr. Daschle’s sincerity.

“Democratic senators should not be allowed to escape accountability on this,” said Jonathan Grella, spokesman for Mr. DeLay. “Daschle and [Sen. John] Kerry feel free to talk about support for comprehensive energy policy on the campaign trail, but don’t when they come to the Senate floor.”

The energy bill could be a campaign issue for Mr. Daschle in his re-election bid in the fall.

“In different places, energy will play in different ways … but other than South Dakota, energy will not be a defining issue in any election,” said Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

One provision of the energy bill would increase the use of ethanol-based fuels. Ethanol, a product of corn distillation, is an issue for thousands of corn farmers nationwide, and South Dakota has the nation’s largest concentration of such growers.

Mr. Daschle yesterday rejected accusations that he is dragging his feet on energy policy.

“I’ve been doing all I can, but I warned my Republican colleagues that if they put liability protections for MTBE [methyl tertiary butyl ether] producers in the bill, they would pay a price. And I think they’re seeing that,” Mr. Daschle said.

Unlike the House energy bill, the Senate version lacks a provision to protect makers of MTBE from lawsuits.

Mr. Daschle said yesterday that he has enough support from Democrats to get the bill to the Senate floor. “We do have the 60 votes … assuming we don’t lose any Republicans,” he said.

“Big deal,” said Dick Wadhams, campaign manager for former Rep. John Thune, Mr. Daschle’s Republican challenger this November.

Mr. Daschle “has been trumpeting to get a scaled-down version [of the energy bill] out of the Senate, but our response is, it is dead on arrival in the House,” Mr. Wadhams said.

Mr. Wadhams accused Mr. Daschle of playing both sides of the issue.

In South Dakota, Mr. Daschle is in a tight race with Mr. Thune, who is trailing by seven percentage points, according to a poll conducted last month by the Sioux Falls, S.D., Argus Leader. That poll had a margin of error of five percentage points.

Mr. Wadhams said the poll is significant because Mr. Daschle has been running TV ads since November and has spent millions in the state.

“But the poll numbers haven’t moved since November,” Mr. Wadhams said.

Mr. Daschle said the energy bill won’t hurt his campaign.

“I don’t know that it has any effect on my election. I’ve supported the bill from the beginning, and I think the people of South Dakota know that,” he said.

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