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House Republicans Say Yes’ to Energy Fights

Pence Is Tapped to Craft a Strategy That Pushes Issue Back Into the Public Spotlight

After being branded the “party of no— by Democrats, House Republicans are stockpiling ideas on an issue that allows them to keep saying “yes— — energy policy.

House Republicans captured public attention last August when they refused to leave a darkened House floor after Democrats adjourned for the summer without passing comprehensive energy legislation. The monthlong protest earned the party some rare, positive publicity amid the din of the presidential campaign and national party conventions.

The effort didn’t improve GOP fortunes on Election Day, but Republican leaders hope they can claim the policy high ground and craft a winning political message by getting out early on the issue.

Instead of reviving the chants of “drill, baby, drill,— GOP leaders say they will create a comprehensive GOP alternative to the Democratic energy strategy. In the coming weeks, they will focus their criticism on a carbon cap-and-trade proposal they believe would raise taxes on consumers.

On Monday, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) was tapped by Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) to lead a GOP energy task force in anticipation of the resurgence of the energy debate.

“We know energy … is going to be a major issue, and we are going to move very quickly to address Republican alternatives for that even this spring,— Pence said.

“The terrain has changed a bit. We don’t have gas prices where they were before,— Pence said. “So while we will be focusing on domestic exploration as a key element of energy independence, we also are going to deal very directly with the threat of a national energy tax through the enactment of cap-and-trade legislation,— Pence said.

Boehner said he believes the public is still concerned about dependence on foreign oil and that the possibility of higher energy taxes will galvanize voters. But Boehner declined to discuss whether Republicans would revive their guerrilla tactics on the House floor.

“The concept of the energy group was really born with the energy working group in the last Congress that ultimately developed the American Energy Act and created the situation in which the August gas price protest took place,— Pence said.

The renewed emphasis on energy is not confined simply to energy-related legislation. The GOP budget blueprint released March 26 incorporates drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as ways to address both energy independence and job creation.

A former GOP leadership aide said the issue would have more resonance now than it did last summer, because of the ailing economy.

“It’s only a matter of time until record-high prices return, and they’re going to return with a vengeance when the economy begins to recover,— the aide said. “In the meantime, Democrats are painting themselves into the same corner they floundered in last year by working to halt new production on the OCS, proposing massive tax hikes on industry and floating new regulatory schemes that would cripple our economy for almost no tangible environmental benefit whatsoever.—

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), batted down the notion that House Republicans made any popularity gains on the issue last year and pointed to the 2008 election results.

“Where is the victory?— Elshami said. “If the Republicans believe their energy [plan] was a victory, they can take a look at the results of the election. The American people have rejected that claim.—

One House Republican, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed that energy protests were not a silver-bullet solution to the party’s political problems.

“It’s an important issue, but the moments when it’s important are fleeting,— the Member said. “It’s a winning issue when energy prices are high.—

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