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Senators Hope to Broker Energy Deal

With only two weeks left before the Senate wraps up for recess, lawmakers are hoping to dash toward the finish line with at least having done something about high gasoline prices.

Even though the price of oil has dropped on Wall Street in recent days, that has not translated into lower prices at the pump, and lawmakers are eager to tackle the issue. A procedural vote that will allow the Senate to move toward a bill dealing with oil speculation has been scheduled for Tuesday.

Democratic and GOP leaders have recently been trying to reach some sort of agreement on a market speculation bill spearheaded by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other members of the Democratic leadership. Reid argues that Congress must first deal with speculation in the oil markets before introducing alternative measures.

Meanwhile, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he has been in talks with Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) about the structure of a broader bill dealing with both market speculation and domestic oil exploration. Durbin called for Republicans to offer alternative proposals on speculation and oil drilling that would be voted on in conjunction with the Democratic bills.

How a bipartisan group of Senators headed by Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) fits into the consideration of energy legislation in the coming weeks is unclear, as Conrad noted that nothing is expected to come out of the group until lawmakers return in September.

Durbin also indicated that before the Senate recesses for the summer it must deal with legislation on heating assistance for the needy, a measure that had originally been floated as a part of a second stimulus package. The measure was blocked by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) Thursday morning.

Additionally, a bill to prevent the fall of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is also on the horizon. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said he hoped to get language finished to allow a limitless line of credit for the government-sponsored enterprises. The rescue measure is likely to be a part of the larger package aimed at dealing with the subprime mortgage crisis.

Although passage of the housing measure is likely, the bill will still have to endure GOP resistance. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) tried to paint a bleak future for the bill last week, announcing that he would do everything possible to prevent its passage.

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