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Democrats Plan to Push Energy Until Year’s End

It’s not just the temperature that’s hot in D.C. With a gallon of gas now over the $4 mark in much of the country, the partisan rhetoric is heating up, and like Washington’s long, humid summer, there’s no end in sight.

[IMGCAP(1)]Rather than being forced by Republicans to debate gas prices during a major global warming bill, as they were last week, Senate Democrats want to define the issue themselves by bringing up a measure to punish oil companies for making record profits on the backs of cash-strapped consumers.

Though that measure isn’t expected to survive through the day, Democrats said the legislation is just the first in a long string of energy-related items they will be pursuing during what portends to be a sweltering summer, both literally and politically.

“We are going to focus on this issue for the rest of the summer and for the rest of this Congress,” Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) told reporters on Monday.

Unbowed, Republicans are essentially saying, “Bring it on.” They already

feel that they made a salient case last week that the Democrats’ climate change measure would raise gas prices even higher than they are — 53 cents over 20 years by the Government Accountability Office’s estimate.

Republicans say the appearance of the gas price bill is aimed at muting that criticism.

“The decision to proceed to this bill coincides conveniently with the political fallout Democrats faced on gas prices following last week’s debate,” read a memo distributed by the communications staff of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

For all the rhetoric, however, the gas prices measure will likely see little debate time on the floor because Republicans are expected to block it from getting the 60 votes needed to even begin officially considering it. Their objections center on the so-called “windfall profits” tax and a separate repeal of oil and gas tax breaks, but they also contend it wouldn’t do anything to actually lower current gas prices.

“This week’s impromptu consideration appears to be yet another move by Senate Democrats to provide all the appearance of action without any intention of actually providing relief at the pump,” the GOP memo said. “It is, in a sense, a gas price ruse for American consumers.”

Of course, Democrats acknowledge that the provisions of their measure, which includes language designed to dampen oil market speculation, will not directly drive down gas prices, but they’re hoping that passage of the measure will send a signal to Wall Street that the government is moving to regulate what they see as an out-of-control industry and market.

“A lot of the market is psychological,” Schumer said.

Meanwhile, Democrats might have more success today in bringing up legislation to extend several expiring renewable energy tax credits. That vote is expected immediately after the gas prices vote — assuming the gas prices bill is blocked as expected.

The extenders measure has fallen just one vote short of the 60 needed previously, but Democrats say Republicans cannot keep avoiding bills that deal with energy prices.

“They can’t sit there and talk about wanting to address the energy crisis when they block every single piece of energy legislation that comes to the floor,” one Senate Democratic leadership aide said. “Even if they don’t want to pass it, you’d think they’d at least want to have the debate.”

Indeed, the votes today on both the gas prices measure and energy tax extenders are not on the merits of bills themselves, but on whether to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on motions to proceed to the bills.

But getting cloture on the energy tax extenders bill could be contingent on whether Democrats will allow a vote on a Republican version that does not include the same controversial offsets as the Democrats’.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has proposed paying for the tax extenders package with revenue raisers elsewhere. But ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced a competing measure that would not be offset.

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