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Energy Legislation On Tap in the House

Heading into what is expected to be the final three-week stretch of the year, House Democratic leaders will spend the week of Sept. 8 possibly pushing a contentious energy package with some offshore drilling provisions, along with other noncontroversial bills related to the environment.

Top Democrats are hoping to advance their much-anticipated energy bill as soon as this week, and it is expected to include language that would partially lift a soon-to-expire moratorium on offshore drilling, according to a senior House Democratic aide, adding that the bill may slip until the following week.

The package will likely include offshore drilling provisions similar to those contained in “Gang of 10” language, said the aide, referring to bipartisan energy proposals being floated in the Senate.

While those proposals have been put together outside of leadership, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has signaled that he would allow a vote on a bipartisan package once it is unveiled.

Specifically, the Gang of 10 offshore drilling proposals call for lifting the ban on drilling along the Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Florida and along the west coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico.

A similar bipartisan group of House lawmakers has also proposed an energy package outside of leadership, but their bill goes further than Senate proposals. It seeks a general repeal of the drilling ban and links royalties from offshore drilling to investments in renewables.

An aide involved with the House bipartisan energy group said House leaders would be making a mistake by not backing the group’s idea for a financing mechanism, which has the support of 131 House Members, including more than 100 Republicans.

Leadership has raised concerns that tying drilling royalties to renewables wouldn’t pass muster with the Congressional Budget Office, which would score those dollars as a loss of revenue, said the aide. But “that is screaming horrendous bulls–t,” the aide said, since these would be new funds that don’t draw from the Treasury.

The real question is whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants to actually pass a bill with some offshore drilling in it or if her intent is to get Republicans on record for voting against offshore drilling by adding other items to the bill they oppose, the aide said.

“If they really want to pass a bill with some drilling in it, even if it’s limited, then they won’t load it up with things that Republicans are against,” such as a windfall profits tax, the aide said.

Two other bills on tap for the week include the No Child Left Inside Act, which would expand environmental education programs, and legislation calling for a study on two Vermont rivers. The House will also take up a resolution relating to 9/11.

Beyond this week, Democrats are eyeing action on another economic stimulus package, disaster relief legislation and the fiscal 2009 Defense appropriations bill. Lawmakers will also have to craft a continuing resolution before adjourning for the year to keep the government funded at current levels.

House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) announced Friday that he also plans to introduce legislation that would extend unemployment benefits by seven weeks. A Rangel aide could not confirm when the bill will be filed or if there are plans to roll it into a broader economic stimulus package backed by leadership.