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Democrats Lower Energy Expectations

Scaling back their plan to pass four energy-related bills before the July Fourth recess, House Democratic leaders are instead aiming to consider two measures and a letter to President Bush demanding a probe into oil speculators.

Under political pressure to produce legislation aimed at lowering soaring gas prices, House Democratic leaders simply may have overreached in trying to cobble together four wide-ranging bills before the recess.

In truth, they couldn’t agree among themselves about what to put into some of the proposals.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said to expect two of the Democrats’ energy-related bills to hit the floor on Thursday: one aimed at lowering mass-transit fares, and one that would force oil companies to “use or lose” their currently leased land for drilling.

Other legislation originally expected this week relating to oil speculators will slip until July as lawmakers continue hammering out a final bill, Hoyer said.

Instead, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter Wednesday to the president urging him to direct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to use its emergency authority to curb excessive speculation in energy markets and ensure that energy prices are fair.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), a sponsor of legislation that targets speculators, said Pelosi’s letter to the president is “a bold move” and responds to the reality that the speculator market has “taken on almost a casino atmosphere.”

Larson plans to hold a news conference Thursday to introduce his measure, which has attracted 113 co-sponsors, some of them Republicans.

In addition to the Pelosi letter, Democrats plan to take up a nonbinding resolution on the floor on Thursday supporting it.

“Today, we are putting oil speculators on notice,” Pelosi declared.

For now, the mass-transit bill is the only energy measure set to be considered under a rule on Thursday. It is unclear whether Democrats will choose to advance the “use it or lose it” bill or the oil speculators resolution under suspension of the rules.

Asked if she is confident that Democrats can approve speculator legislation when it comes up in July, Pelosi said, “That’s what we are putting together now. … I think that we will have such legislation.”

The final bill Democrats were hoping to advance before recess is legislation targeting price gouging in the oil industry, which-didn’t get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the suspension calendar.

House Democratic aides said that bill is not likely to resurface until at least after the recess.

House Minority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) blasted Republicans for blocking the price-gouging bill.

GOP Members “demonstrated last night that they would rather stand with the president on a drill-and-veto strategy” than stand with Americans, Clyburn said.

Republicans sought to cast Democrats’ change in plans in advancing energy bills as a leadership failure.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) described Democrats’ latest plans as “nothing short of pathetic” and “an insult to Americans” struggling with rising gas prices.

“Tomorrow, the House will vote on one bill that duplicates current law, another bill that will force taxpayers to pay the bus fares of bureaucrats and a nonbinding resolution that carries all the weight of a note written on a napkin,” Boehner said.

“At a time when American families and small businesses are struggling with $4-per-gallon gasoline, is this all the Democratic Congress can offer them before leaving town for an 11-day vacation?”

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