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Parties Reverse Roles, Trade Barbs on Gas Prices

Taking a cue from record gasoline prices on the eve of the summer travel season, House Democrats renewed their focus on energy consumption Tuesday, even as across the Capitol, the Senate GOP sought to put Democrats on the defensive on an issue for which Republicans were frequently attacked when they were in the majority.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unveiled the Democrats’ new message strategy — lowering gas prices through “energy independence” including alternative fuels and more stringent fuel-efficiency standards — at a Tuesday press conference, noting that gas prices, averaging $3.05 per gallon nationwide, are currently highest in her own San Francisco-based district.

“Energy independence is essential to reducing the price at the pump,” Pelosi said. The California lawmaker later acknowledged, however, that Democratic efforts will not offer an immediate price reduction to consumers. “It’s a long-term burden. It’s going to take some time to bring it down.”

House Democrats will keep on that message in coming weeks as various committees hold seven hearings on energy-independence-related topics before the Memorial Day recess. An energy package is on schedule to be introduced July 4, Pelosi said.

“We will have more legislation. This is not the end of it,” she added.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) also suggested Democrats will tie energy to three major areas: homeland security, the environment and “new economy” initiatives.

In the meantime, Senate Republican leaders, including Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.), took to the chamber’s floor Tuesday to denounce rising gas prices and chastise the new majority for its lack of action on the issue so far.

Republicans, criticizing Senate Democrats who held press conferences at gas stations near the Capitol last year to highlight the price of a gallon of gasoline, have called for increasing domestic refineries, in part by relaxing government limitations on constructing those facilities as well as reducing the number of “boutique blends” of gasoline required in various regions of the country.

“Last year, Republicans proposed legislation to increase domestic refining capacity by cutting through the government red tape that makes refinery construction permitting an extraordinarily difficult process,” said a Senate Republican Conference memo issued to reporters. “Democrats opposed those efforts, and today we know how necessary it is to expand America’s domestic refining capacity.”

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