The Week Ahead: Pre-Recess Message War
Last week was the time for making deals. This week is the time for getting those deals passed and sent to President Bush's desk.
After agreements last week on the supplemental spending bill, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act update and a housing rescue measure, all three bills will be on the Senate floor this week as members get ready to leave town for the July 4th recess. The House dispensed with the supplemental and FISA already, while the housing package is a Senate-only vehicle at this point and would still need to be the subject of bicameral negotiations.
The House this week may tackle a Medicare physician payment measure and a bill to "patch" the Alternative Minimum Tax for another year. And the chamber will finish up the pre-recess period with a series of energy bills designed by Democratic leaders to propel their members into a break sure to be dominated by more stories of rising oil and gas prices. Republicans plan to maintain their drumbeat that Democrats aren't actually advancing policies that would increase energy production or bring prices down, while Democrats will continue to counter by pushing for oil companies to "use or lose" their existing oil leases and by seeking to "crack down" on speculation in the oil market.
As Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) puts it below, Democrats plan to "scramble for political cover on this issue" this week. But Brendan Daly, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), suggests "Republicans in Washington only offer more drilling" and that the Bush administration has allowed "Big Oil" to write its energy policy.
The stage is set for a full-fledged message war, both this week and during next week's recess. Let's hear the perspectives of the top four leadership offices, shall we?
Don Stewart, for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):
The last week before a recess is normally busy, and this week is no exception. The Senate continues to process amendments related to the Housing bill on Tuesday. In addition, after months of negotiations, the Senate will take up the FISA compromise that the House passed late last week. The FISA compromise will continue to give the intelligence community the tools they need to protect America from terrorist threats, while providing a fair process to provide liability protection to telecom companies who may have helped the government track terrorists. Despite objections from some Democrats, the Senate will take up and pass this needed national security legislation. The Senate is also expected to take up a bill providing funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan this week, which provides necessary funds to train, equip and pay the brave men and women who are fighting on the front lines of the War on Terror.
There are also several confirmations which may take place this week. Though the Senate Majority has fallen down on confirming circuit court nominees, there remains a possibility that the Senate can confirm two circuit court nominees this week. That still leaves several judicial nominees who are awaiting committee action. They still have a long way to go to confirm a comparable number of circuit court nominees as were confirmed in prior Congresses. The Senate also has the opportunity to confirm 5 members to the Federal Election Commission before leaving for July 4th recess.
Republicans continue to focus on passing legislation which will actually increase domestic energy production so that we can begin to bring relief from high prices at the pump. We need to find more American energy now, while pursuing a long-term strategy for energy independence which includes clean energy technology. Americans are calling for more domestic energy production, and we have the technology to responsibly produce more American energy. Yet Democrats continue to block production efforts which will lessen our reliance on Middle East oil. Republicans will continue to push for legislation which will address high energy prices before leaving town.
Jim Manley, for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):
This week we will focus on Democrats' efforts to strengthen the economy by passing unemployment insurance, addressing record-high foreclosures and helping our veterans afford the rising costs of education.
For weeks, Bush-McCain Republicans have either ignored, blocked or ran away from legislation to help Americans struggling with the rising costs of living and a shrinking job market. By helping Americans keep their homes and their home equity, we are addressing the root of the broader economic crisis. And extending unemployment insurance for workers is one of the most cost-effective and fast-acting ways to stimulate the economy. The 21st Century G.I. Bill, which Senator McCain opposes, will help ensure today's troops have the education to fuel tomorrow's economy. We hope Bush-McCain Republicans will join us in these efforts instead of saying no to millions of Americans who bear the burden of the weakening economy.
Michael Steel, for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio):
Fireworks, family fun, and four-dollar a gallon gas prices - that's what is in store for the American people this 4th of July holiday. What are House Democrats doing about it? As usual, nothing. Congress is prepared to leave town at the end of this week without holding a single vote on meaningful solutions to increase the supply of American energy and help lower gas prices. What are they doing instead? Well, we're not quite sure yet (the Democrats are hinting about some additional legislation that isn't on the calendar), but so far we've got a bill to provide an increased transit benefit for federal government workers, and a bill that would increase taxes on our domestic energy industry. That's the Democrats' "common sense" plan to bring down gas prices: bus fares for bureaucrats and higher gas prices for everyone else.
What else are Democrats planning to do? Scramble for political cover on this issue. So we'll probably see a "use it or lose it" bill to highlight Democrats' silly, bogus "68 million acres" claim. Everyone knows this isn't really an issue (the "unused capacity" the Democrats tout is actually land that either has no oil and gas or is still in the decade-long exploration and development phase). That's why every reporter in the Capitol ignored the press event on it last week (note to freshman Democrats: the folks taking notes in the risers were interns, not reporters).
What will House Republicans do this week? As usual, everything we can to increase the supply of American energy and help lower gas prices. Expect House Republicans to announce a new discharge petition and force House votes that will make rank-and-file Democrats to make a real choice: Will they stand with their liberal leaders or their constituents?
In poll after poll, the American people are telling Congress loud and clear: bring down gas prices. House Republicans hear them. When will House Democrats finally agree to jettison the policies demanded by their radical environmental allies - policies that would actually raise the price at the pump ever more - and join Republicans in supporting legislation that would actually help families struggling with the $1.74 "Pelosi Premium"?
Brendan Daly, for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.):
Failed Policies of the Past
American families and businesses are reeling from record prices of gas and oil--the result of seven years of missed opportunities and an energy policy this White House has literally allowed Big Oil to write.
Republicans in Washington only offer more drilling--even though 68 million acres of federal oil reserves are already open and leased for development, but oil companies have decided it's not worth the money to drill there. The bottom line: America has only 1.6% of the world's oil supply, but we use 24%--so we cannot drill our way to energy independence.
A New Direction
The New Direction Congress has enacted into law the first new fuel efficiency standards for vehicles in 32 years, an historic commitment to affordable American-grown biofuels which are keeping gas prices almost 50 cents lower than they would be, and action to lower gas prices by suspending oil purchasing for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We will continue to offer innovative energy solutions, pressing for legislation that invests in clean, renewable, energy and efficient technologies, reduces transit fares, help Americans struggling with energy prices, rewards conservation, cracks down on oil speculators and on price gouging, forces Big Oil to 'use it or lose it' on federal drilling permits, and transitions America to a new more affordable energy future. This week, the House will likely vote on these four bills:
-- Cracking Down on Price Gouging- Gives enforcement authority to the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and punish those who artificially inflate fuel prices, similar to legislation passed last year.
-- Closing the "Enron-like London Loophole" for Petroleum Markets - Takes steps to curb excessive speculation in the energy futures markets, which experts have noted is driving up the price of a barrel of oil.
-- "Use It Or Lose It" for Oil Companies Holding Permits and Not Drilling - Compels the oil industry to start drilling or lose permits on the 68 million acres of undeveloped federal oil reserves that they are currently warehousing, keeping domestic supply lower and prices higher.
-- Reducing Transit Fares (H.R. 6052) - Gives grants to mass transit authorities to lower fares for commuters pinched at the pump and expand transit services.
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