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The Week Ahead: Energy Bills on Tap

With gas prices again at record levels and air conditioners working overtime, energy is Topic A on Capitol Hill this week. The Senate plans to tackle a Democratic package of bills that includes measures to repeal tax incentives for oil and gas companies and crack down on alleged price gouging at the pump. The House, meanwhile, is expected to return to the Iraq supplemental spending bill as well as a measure extending unemployment benefits and NASA reauthorization.

Once again, Capitol Briefing asked top press aides to the big four congressional leaders to weigh in with their takes on the most important news of the coming week:

Brendan Daly, for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):

Unemployment Insurance

The House will act swiftly this week to extend unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term jobless by taking up legislation already passed by the Ways and Means Committee to aid millions of workers who have lost their jobs in the struggling economy. Last Friday, the Department of Labor released statistics showing that the nation's unemployment rate has risen to 5.5 percent - the biggest monthly increase since 1986. In addition, the report found that 49,000 workers lost their jobs in May, for a total of nearly 325,000 jobs lost since the beginning of the year.

Democrats have argued for this extension since the beginning of the year, as the economy weakened, but we have faced continued resistance from the Bush Administration. In the face of the biggest jump in the unemployment percentage in two decades, America's workers and families can wait no longer, and neither will the Congress.

Relief to Americans at the Pump

The New Direction Congress is committed to bringing real relief to those feeling the pinch from high gas prices and ensuring the needs of families and businesses are put before the interests of Big Oil companies. We have passed major legislation to provide relief to Americans such as the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act and The OPEC and Big Oil companies accountability bill. And by July 4th, we will work to develop other innovative energy independence legislation that addresses high energy costs and continues to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and we will look into speculation in the energy futures market:

Unfortunately, Republicans and President Bush continue to stand in the way:

* 82% voted against repealing billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies for Big Oil [H.R. 6, 1/18/07]

* 82% voted against investing in renewable energy resources to break our dependence on foreign oil [H.R. 6049, 5/21/08]

* 71% voted against cracking down on price gouging [H.R. 1252, 5/23/07]

Republicans this week will continue to push their failed drill and veto message. Here are the facts:

* Since 2000, drilling on land has increased dramatically - climbing about 66 percent- while gas prices continue to increase.

* The Department of Energy has concluded that opening up the Arctic for drilling would reduce the price of a gallon of gasoline by about 1 penny - 20 years from now - nothing that will help consumers today. [EIA, 2005]

* The federal government has already opened up plenty of land and issued plenty of permits for drilling. Oil and gas companies hold leases to 68 million acres of federal land that are NOT currently under production.

Michael Steel, for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio):

Yesterday, the nationwide average price of a gallon of regular gallon of gas topped $4 for the first time. On Friday, the price of a barrel of oil jumped an unprecedented $11 in one day. As the headline on the Drudge Report right now notes, gas prices have "Doubled in a Year." Guess what House Republicans are going to be talking about this week? Anyone who guessed "gas prices" gets a lollipop. We are going to use every tool available to the minority in the House to expose the Democratic leaders' do-nothing record and give their Members the opportunity to support policies that would actually help bring down gas prices. House Republicans have a comprehensive plan to lower gas prices by expanding the production of American energy in an environmentally-responsible way , improving energy efficiency, and encouraging investment in groundbreaking research in advanced alternative and renewable energy technologies.

As the Senate debate showed last week, there are clear differences between the parties on this issue: Democrats' energy policies would increase gas prices, Republican energy policies will lower them. Democrats' false claims that suing OPEC or raising taxes on the domestic energy industry (a good way to cost American jobs as well as increasing gas prices) will somehow lower gas prices simply don't pass the straight-face test. Democrats are in a box on this issue because they claim to have two directly contradictory priorities: they want strict federal government mandates to reduce carbon emissions, and they want to lower gas prices. But government mandates would drive up the price of gas, and when push comes to shove, Democrats have chose mandates - and higher gas prices -every single time. Republicans understand that the American people are hurting and we're going to show them that we have a plan to help.

The other key priority this week should be doing the right thing and passing the troop funding bill. Actually "doing the right thing" would require Doc Brown, a flux capacitor, and a tricked-out DeLorean, because our military explained very clearly to the Democrats in charge on Capitol Hill that they needed this money before Memorial Day. Now, three weeks later, Democrats are still fudging and fiddling, trying to decide on how best to hold our troops hostage as leverage for additional domestic spending. The Department of Defense will start sending furlough notices to it employees next week. At the Pentagon, military officers who should be concentrating on winning wars are being forced to spend time switching money between accounts to make sure our military doesn't bounce a check. This is absurd. The bulk of this troop funding request was sent to the Democratic Leadership more than a year ago. What will it take for them to finally give our troops the money they need?

Jim Manley, for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

GOALS

1. Highlight Democratic efforts to make the American dream affordable again by addressing the rising costs of energy through the Consumer First Energy Act and the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008.

2. Contrast our efforts to strengthen the economy with Bush-McCain Republicans, who are out of touch with the concerns of American families and offering only the status quo.

MESSAGE FRAME

Democrats are working to make the American Dream affordable again for middle-class families struggling with the rising cost of living and a shrinking job market. We are working to help Americans afford the ever-rising costs of energy, food and health care, even as Senate Republicans work to block us at every turn. Bush-McCain Republicans - whose failed economics have led to five straight months of job losses, forced energy and food prices up every week, and left more than a million American families in foreclosure - must do more than offer the
same failed economic strategy that got us into this mess in the first place.

Don Stewart, for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):

Last week, the Majority brought down the Climate Tax Bill before there was a single vote on gas prices, clean energy technology, or protecting American jobs. This week, the Senate will continue to debate ways to lower the price at the pump. While Democrats are hoping that raising taxes on energy will result in lower prices for consumers, Republicans are committed to increasing domestic production to address this challenge.

On Tuesday the Senate will consider back-to-back measures which will increase the price of energy at a time when Americans are already paying over $4 a gallon for gas. The Energy Tax bill will increase the price of gas at the pump and increase our reliance on foreign oil. Democrats themselves are divided on the centerpiece of the bill - a windfall profits tax. Several Democrats have publicly announced their opposition to this and other provisions, which amount to little more than an additional tax on energy production. Raising taxes only hurts consumers, as additional costs are passed on to them in the form of higher prices.

If the Senate votes against moving to increase energy taxes, we will vote on a House measure containing tax extenders and energy provisions. There are several good provisions in the House bill, including an extension of expiring tax provisions for research and development, a deduction for college tuition costs, tax breaks for members of the military and veterans, and incentives for developing alternative sources of energy, among others. However, the House package fails to provide much needed middle class AMT relief and includes provisions which will permanently raise taxes on American consumers and job creators. This will put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage as they would pay double taxes, and turns what should be a bipartisan effort to extend expiring provisions into a partisan fight over increasing taxes.

Last week, Senators McConnell, Kyl, Grassley and Hatch introduced a clean AMT and extenders bill, S. 3098. This bill contains no tax hikes, reflecting the position 41 Senators took in a letter to Chairman Baucus. This alternative also includes the bipartisan package of energy tax incentives introduced by Senators Cantwell and Ensign, which encourages the development of alternative energy sources and is supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the Senate.

The Senate may also consider Medicare legislation, including a provision which increases Medicare payments to doctors. Democrats followed Senator Grassley's lead by increasing the physician update in their bill. However, they are keenly aware the Administration opposes many of their offsets and their policy changes so their bill will not become law. We should stop the partisan exercise and get back to crafting a bipartisan bill we can pass before a 10% cut to Medicare payments goes into effect.

By Ben Pershing  |  June 9, 2008; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  Agenda  
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