- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2008

As voters pay ever-higher gas prices, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama are fleeing from their previous energy policy stances, with the Republican embracing expanded drilling and the Democrat seeking to punish energy companies he voted to reward just three years ago.

The presidential candidates also traded fire over how to pursue the war on terrorism, with Mr. McCain’s camp accusing Mr. Obama of “a perfect manifestation of a Sept. 10th mind-set” for praising the way the nation treated the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as a law-enforcement matter. Mr. Obama countered that Republicans’ war on terrorism hasn’t produced Osama bin Laden.

“I don’t think they have much standing to suggest they’ve learned a lot of lessons from 9/11,” Mr. Obama told reporters.

Mr. McCain traveled Tuesday to Houston, the nation’s oil capital, to reverse positions and propose an end to the federal ban on expanded offshore drilling. He also took the opportunity to blast Mr. Obama’s call for a windfall profits tax on oil companies, saying it was a solution straight from the 1970s, even though the senator from Arizona was open to such a tax just last month.

“[Senator Obama] wants a windfall profits tax on oil, to go along with the new taxes he also plans for coal and natural gas. If the plan sounds familiar, it’s because that was President Jimmy Carter’s big idea, too, and a lot of good it did us,” Mr. McCain said. “Now, as then, all a windfall profits tax will accomplish is to increase our dependence on foreign oil, and hinder exactly the kind of domestic exploration and production we need.”

Mr. Obama blasted Mr. McCain for going to Texas to “tell a group of Houston oil executives exactly what they wanted to hear.”

“Much like his gas tax gimmick that would leave consumers with pennies in savings, opening our coastlines to offshore drilling would take at least a decade to produce any oil at all, and the effect on gasoline prices would be negligible at best since America only has 3 percent of the world´s oil,” he said.

Mr. Obama this week has been attacking a 2005 energy bill as a symbol of Washington’s counterproductive corporate giveaways, even though he voted for that measure. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, used that vote against Mr. Obama during their heated primary battle, saying in New Hampshire that if you “rail against” tax breaks for big oil but “you voted for Dick Cheney’s energy bill” in 2005, “that´s not change.”

Mr. McCain also voted against the energy bill, calling it “a grab-bag of corporate favors,” and Republicans slammed Mr. Obama in a Web ad Tuesday for hypocrisy on the bill.

The campaigns acknowledge that high gasoline prices have become the dominant issue, and polling shows most Americans are ready for anything that could bring relief.

A Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports poll released this week found that 53 percent of Americans say the U.S. should start drilling even in protected nature preserves.

That is further than either candidate has been willing to go, though by supporting some new drilling Mr. McCain has topped Mr. Obama in calling for more production.

Democrats balked at the polling, saying it was based on the premise that drilling would lower prices - something Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, disputed.

“Drilling offshore does not lower oil prices,” Mr. Nelson argued. “Drilling is not about the price of oil.”

“Of course you’re going to get an answer, ‘Yes,’ to that question. It’snot a real reflection of the general public’s feeling out there,” Mr. Nelson said.

Mr. Nelson likened Mr. McCain to defeated Republican Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo. The congressman from California lost his seat in 2006 in part because environmental groups targeted him for pushing coastal drilling and for being tied to oil donations.

“This is the Richard Pombo plan pulled off the shelf,” Mr. Nelson said.

Conservatives and advocates for expanded drilling also accused Mr. McCain of hypocrisy, saying his new position leaves him supporting local decision-making in some cases, and opposing it in others.

“If it is proper to grant the coastal states authority over offshore energy production - and we believe it is - then it is also proper to grant Alaskans the same authority over the state and federal lands on ANWR´s frozen coastal plain,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. “The people of Alaska have been asking Washington for this right for more than two decades.”

Mr. McCain defended the distinction.

“Quite rightly, I believe, we confer a special status on some areas of our country that are best left undisturbed. When America set aside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we called it a “refuge” for a reason,” he said.

Republicans compared the senator from Illinois to Mr. Carter on energy and to 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry for the terrorism comments.

Mr. Kerry, of Massachusetts, was attacked repeatedly for saying terrorism was a law-enforcement matter, and McCain national security adviser Randy Scheunemann leveled a similar charge against Mr. Obama, citing the “September 10th mind-set.”

“He does not understand the nature of the enemies we face,” he said.

Mr. Kerry, in a conference call on behalf of Mr. Obama Tuesday, said Mr. McCain offers his own failed policy and that Mr. Obama is a breakthrough. He said Mr. Obama’s position that he would unilaterally bomb a target in Pakistan shows that the Democrat has a better understanding of the post-Sept. 11 world.

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