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Pelosi Asks Bush to Sell Off Oil Reserves

With Congress under mounting pressure to do something immediately to lower gas prices, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked President Bush on Tuesday to start selling off a portion of the nation’s 706-million-barrel strategic oil reserves.

“Releasing oil from the reserve is a tool to manage our national and economic security, and when judiciously used, will in no way jeopardize national security,” Pelosi said, noting that the reserve is 97 percent full.

Pelosi’s move comes as gas prices hit a record $4.11 a gallon and as Republicans have been making headway with the public in support of expanded offshore oil drilling.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) denounced Pelosi and other Democrats for blocking an expansion of domestic drilling.

“With her call for President Bush to release supplies from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the Speaker is admitting yet again that increasing the supply of oil will help reduce the price of gasoline,” Boehner said. “I agree, and so do my House Republican colleagues, who have been arguing for decades in favor of more American energy production.”

In addition to the new proposal to sell off reserves, Democrats also plan to focus on a series of committee hearings this week on oil price speculation, promising anti-speculation and “use it or lose it” bills will return to the floor later this month. But the party faces internal griping from Oil Patch Democrats such as Reps. Gene Green (Texas) and Nick Lampson (Texas), who want more land and sea opened up for drilling, and poll numbers showing the public increasingly backs doing so.

Pelosi touted past Democratic-sponsored actions, such as suspending strategic oil purchases and enacting stricter vehicle mileage standards, while blaming Bush for the teetering economy. And Democratic aides said Republicans will have a tough time explaining why so many opposed a bill requiring oil companies to use the acres they have leased.

But House Republicans plan to keep attacking Democrats on offshore drilling and expanding other domestic energy supplies at every opportunity, blasting Democratic leaders for avoiding tough votes, and dismiss the “use it or lose it” legislation as a fig leaf covering Democrats’ opposition to expanding oil exploration.

In addition to having no energy bills on the floor this week, it’s unclear when appropriators will hold more full committee markups. The Appropriations Committee adjourned the Labor-HHS Appropriations markup before the July 4 break after Republicans sought to add oil-drilling provisions, and neither it nor the Interior bill originally planned for a markup today had been rescheduled as of press time.

Republicans say there is a simple reason why Democrats are avoiding votes on GOP drilling proposals: They would either lose the vote or put vulnerable Members on the record against a position backed by the public.

A Republican aide said Democrats have made it clear privately that the oil-drilling provisions are holding up appropriations markups.

“They say leadership is adamant that they don’t want to lose any of these guys on these oil votes because it would be embarrassing for them,” the GOP aide said.

A half-dozen Democratic appropriators have voted with most Republicans in the past on offshore oil drilling, and getting them to switch is no slam-dunk.

“They are afraid of where it puts them in the eyes of their constituents when gas prices are at $4.11 a gallon,” the aide said.

But a Democratic leadership aide said they are confident they would be able to defeat the offshore drilling amendment.

“We’ve defeated that amendment before and we’ll defeat it again,” the aide said.

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