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Cabinet Officials Join Senate GOP in Effort to Move Energy Bill

Republicans tried to jump-start the energy bill Thursday, bringing Cabinet secretaries to Capitol Hill to tout President Bush’s plan in advance of Senate debate next week.

“It’s long overdue,” Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said. “The president has been calling for this legislation for two years now.”

The issue is one of Bush’s top priorities but unlike his other major initiatives, it has languished in the Senate. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has pledged to bring the legislation to the floor and finish it before the chamber adjourns for the August recess a week from Friday.

Democrats have asked him to slow down, saying more time is needed to slog through the 300-plus amendments.

“We’ve already had two-and-half weeks on the floor,” a frustrated Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said in response to Minority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) plea for more debate. “Some people are filing amendments because they don’t ever want to pass a bill.”

“We already know how we’re going to vote on a lot of issues” addressed by pending amendments, he added.

For their part, the Cabinet secretaries made the case that prompt action is necessary to ignite the sluggish economy.

“This is a jobs bill,” Evans said. “I know it has an energy title on it but it’s a jobs bill.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said building a pipeline to pump natural gas from Alaska to the continental 48 alone would create 400,000 jobs.

Evans likened its import to the economy to that of the successive Bush tax cuts.

Energy Secretary Spence Abraham added that it would help the environment too.

“You can’t complain about the environment and not pass an energy bill,” he said.