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Rhetoric Heats Up as Gasoline Prices Spike

The drip, drip, drip of higher gas prices has ratcheted up rhetoric on both sides of the aisle as Democratic and Republican lawmakers face the voters over the Memorial Day break, but don’t expect much significant legislation when they get back.

Members of both parties headed home late last week armed with talking points aimed at convincing drivers that they have the solutions while those on the other side have their heads stuck in the sand.

About the only thing that the two parties have managed to produce together on the subject this year has been a suspension of putting 70,000 barrels a day of oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve — initially proposed by Democrats, quickly endorsed by Capitol Hill Republicans and eventually acceded to by President Bush.

But the agreement has had little impact so far on the 85 million-barrel-per-day world oil market, which has seen prices continue to skyrocket, and both sides have taken to blaming each other for the spike.

Democrats also point to last year’s energy package — including a first-in-a-generation increase in fuel-efficiency standards — as their signature accomplishment on the issue, but it will be years before higher mileage standards and investments in alternative fuels have much of an impact. In the meantime, politicians are taking heat as a falling dollar and rising global demand are sending oil prices shooting through the roof. Lawmakers are touting bills like one targeting the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries for price-fixing and a renewable energy tax credit package, both of which are opposed by the White House and most Republican leaders.

House Republicans have taken to targeting the “Pelosi Premium” in every press release — blaming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the hike in gas prices since she took office — while Democrats counter with a Bush graphic showing how prices have nearly tripled in his two terms.

Republicans rolled out their latest energy plan last week, headlined by such old faithfuls as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opening up the coasts to oil and gas drilling, and investing in coal-to-liquids, oil tar sands, oil shale, new oil refineries and nuclear power. Most of these proposals are anathema to the environmental community and to many Democrats, who in turn blast Republicans for refusing to shift oil company tax breaks to renewable energy and accuse Bush of a “Drill and Veto” and a “more of the same” strategy.

“It’s not credible after having a monopoly on power for six years you turn around and point the finger at the other guys,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said of GOP attacks, before launching into a salvo against Republicans as the party of the “status quo.”

“What they did is they gave the oil and gas companies even bigger subsidies,” he said, pointing to the 2005 GOP-led energy package.

House Republicans point out that Democrats for years have helped block new oil supplies like ANWR that would have been online now, and plan to put pressure on them to keep casting tougher and tougher votes to keep those supplies off limits amid a new round of road rage. And they plan to argue that even though Republicans were in charge, if given the reins of power again, this time they’ll be able to deliver.

“What’s new is that we’ve got $4 a gallon gas,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week. Boehner later added that the party will continue to highlight the issue and put the pressure on Democrats to stop blocking new domestic supplies. “We’re going to keep talking about it all summer.”

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