- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

Q

Unbeknownst to most Americans is the fact that every year, Congress has had to extend its own ban on offshore oil and gas drilling. The current ban is set to expire on Sept. 30. Given President Bush’s action, what Congress decides to do will now determine the future of new oil and gas drilling off the American coastline.

Immediately after Mr. Bush lifted the executive order that had banned offshore drilling, crude oil prices, which had been trading above $145 per barrel, quickly fell below $125 per barrel.

Now, a showdown is coming with Congress. With this being a big presidential election year, and with Congress now controlled by the Democrats, there will be mounting pressure on Congress for them to lift their ban on offshore drilling as well. Recent public-opinion polls show that Americans are solidly behind lifting the ban on offshore drilling.

If Congress votes to extend the current ban, Mr. Bush would likely veto the measure and there are unlikely to be enough votes to override his veto. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed she won’t even allow a vote to consider lifting the ban.

The costly run-up in oil prices, especially in the past couple of years, is pinching many consumers and adding to our inflation burden. By lifting the ban on offshore drilling, America would be demonstrating a commitment to bolstering supply, which should further depress prices.

If you’d like to make your voice be heard on this topic, visit www.congress.org, which enables you to craft and send letters to your congressional representatives on this and other current topics of concern.

A significant problem with many state-specific municipal bond funds is that they carry high operating expense ratios. I consider total fund operating expenses in excess of 0.5 percent per year too high.

If there aren’t any good low-fee funds available for your state (check with low-cost provider Vanguard at 800/662-7447), then your mom could instead buy a national muni fund with lower fees. She should, of course, be sure that she’s in a high enough tax bracket to benefit from muni bonds.

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