- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2008

House Republicans say they have the votes to force opening up the outer continental shelf to more drilling, setting up a potential showdown with Democrats who are conflicted over how to handle the issue.

In a letter to President Bush, more than 150 House Republicans said they would vote to uphold a presidential veto of a bill that tries to extend the moratorium. With the ban set to expire Sept. 30, Democrats may have little choice but to give in or force a veto showdown, which could result in a government shutdown.

“The American people support increasing our American energy resources by opening up the OCS to oil and natural-gas exploration, and we strongly urge you to veto any spending bills that would continue the moratorium on OCS drilling,” the House Republicans said in their letter, led by Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican.

Fiscal year 2008 ends Sept. 30, and Congress is rushing to pass a stopgap measure to keep the government open into the next fiscal year. The drilling discussions are wrapped up in that bill, since the offshore-drilling moratorium expires at the same time.

Democratic members and aides said last week that party leaders told conservative House Democrats the final spending measure would be silent on the drilling issue.

But a draft of the measure, dated Sunday, included a modified moratorium that incorporated the energy bill the House passed last week. That measure would prohibit drilling within 50 miles of the shore, and open up drilling farther out - leaving most known resources still off-limits.

Democratic House aides said the drilling provisions are in flux, as is much of the rest of the bill.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said including the energy provisions in the spending measure was “a slap in the face to millions of families, seniors and small businesses trying to make ends meet during out nation’s energy crisis.”

The offshore-drilling ban had been enforced by both executive order and congressionally imposed moratorium, but Mr. Bush earlier this year rescinded the executive order. That leaves the congressional moratorium, which has been renewed annually, as the impediment.

Mr. Bush has promised to veto the stand-alone House energy measure, but he has not said how he would handle a stopgap spending bill that included the provisions.

For their part, the Republicans said Mr. Bush should take a stand.

“We have worked all year for a vote on this issue,” Mr. Kingston said. “It’s a shame that the only way to have an open debate is through the [spending measure]. If the speaker opened the floor for a full debate, this would not be necessary. In light of her refusal to do so, we’re ready to force a vote and give the American people the right to explore American energy.”

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