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Player of the Week: John Peterson

Capitol Briefing usually selects a lawmaker to be Player of the Week because of his or her role in what happened in the previous seven days. Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) is a little different, in that he is a prime mover behind what DIDN'T happen on the Hill this week.

Specifically, the House didn't consider any appropriations bills. As Republicans have been loudly pointing out, this would be the first time in more than 50 years that the House won't move a single spending bill before the August recess, though the chamber is now set to at least consider the military constuction spending measure next week. And Peterson has had a big part in making that happen (or not happen).

At a subcommittee markup of the Interior appropriations bill in early June, Peterson introduced an amendment that would lift the ban on most offshore drilling for oil and gas. His amendment failed there, but looked to have a decent chance of passing when the Interior measure came before the full Appropriations Committee. So Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) yanked the Interior bill off the markup schedule and has yet to bring it back.

Things got more heated in late June, when Obey adjourned a committee markup of the Labor-Health and Human Services spending bill after Republicans offered the entire Interior measure as a substitute. That bill hasn't been rescheduled either, and the entire appropriations process has ground almost to a halt, all because Democrats don't want to have a vote on Peterson's amendment.

Peterson, the 69-year-old former owner of a supermarket chain, is retiring this fall after 12 years in the House, and his pro-drilling crusade is nothing new. He has worked this issue for years, though never with quite the political effect he'd had in this, the year of the $4-plusgallon of gasoline.

Right now, Democrats appear willing to scrap the entire appropriations process rather than risk a drilling vote. While no one had expected Congress to actually get though all its spending bills, the expectation was that at least one or two bills -- particularly the Defense measure -- would get to Bush's desk. But every spending bill, including Defense, is a potential target for Republican efforts to force votes on drilling.

Democrats have said that Republicans are hammering away at the drilling issue because it's the only one they have, and that the minority is at a political disadvantage on nearly every other topic. That may well be true. But it's also true that the GOP appears to be gaining some real traction with both the public and the media, as reporters grow tired of hearing Democratic leaders sidestep a basic question: If you believe you're right on the drilling question, why not allow a vote?

With only a month or so of legislative action left in his congressional career, Peterson may not actually ever see a real victory on his signature issue. But he has played a big role in the minority's only real effective push to go on offense in the 110th Congress. And he's shown that it's still possible to take credit, even when something doesn't happen.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 25, 2008; 5:24 PM ET
Categories:  Player of the Week  
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