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House Passes Oil Spill Measure, Other Bills Before Adjourning

Democratic leaders shepherded a hodgepodge of bills through the House Friday before lawmakers departed for a six-week recess that will be a high-stakes messaging period as both parties jockey for control of the chamber after the November midterms.

With many of the components of their election-year jobs agenda stalled in the Senate, Democratic leaders pressed ahead Friday with legislation crafted in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including a bill that would boost safety requirements on offshore drilling, revamp the way the Interior Department regulates and oversees drilling, lift the $75 million liability cap on spill damages, and give subpoena power to the presidential commission investigating the spill.

The legislation, which the Obama administration strongly supports, passed 209-193.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly opposes the bill, as do some moderate Democrats, particularly those from oil-producing states. In an effort to limit defections, Democratic leaders allowed an amendment easing the Obama administration’s moratorium on new deep-water drilling. That amendment, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Charlie Melancon (La.) and Travis Childers (Miss.) underscored the divisions within the Democratic Caucus about the future of offshore drilling. It was adopted, 216-195.

The bill has little chance of passing in the Senate, where many Republicans and some centrist Democrats already are on record opposing elements of the legislation.

Republicans said the bill would hurt the economy. Rep. John Fleming (La.) called it “a textbook case of how to kill jobs and raise energy prices.” But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who ordered committee chairmen to craft bills in response to the spill earlier this summer, touted the legislation as a demonstration of Democrats’ “commitment to America’s families and businesses to rebuild the Gulf Coast and make families whole, and to ensure the size of this spill and the scope of it never happens again.”

The House also passed, 315-93, a related measure Friday that would establish new protections for whistle-blowers who report unsafe drilling practices.

Friday’s focus on oil spill bills was a departure from the jobs drum that Democrats have been beating, most recently through their new “Make It in America” manufacturing- and trade-based initiative. Several bills packaged under that banner passed with bipartisan support earlier this week, and Democratic leaders plan to make those efforts a big part of their August messaging campaign.

Democratic leaders and their rank and file have been frustrated that many of the jobs bills they’ve passed in recent months have stalled in the Senate, including a small-business lending bill, money to stave teacher layoffs and a measure designed to prevent outsourcing.

As if to underscore the lack of Senate action on House-passed measures, the House sought to pass a bill strikingly similar to legislation the House passed in May that saw no action in the Senate.

However, that bill was defeated. It was brought up under an expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds vote for passage and came up short, 241-154.

The bill was aimed at closing tax “loopholes” that Democrats say allow companies to send jobs overseas.

The bill included a provision that would repeal a reporting requirement in the new health care law that many House Members on both sides of the aisle worried would harm small businesses. Republicans sought Thursday to attach similar language to another measure. Democrats, not wanting to give the GOP a victory, maneuvered to avoid that vote Thursday and sought to claim the language as their own in the tax bill that failed to pass Friday.

The House’s legislative schedule has been fairly light in recent weeks, as Democrats in tough races are wary of casting any politically challenging votes, particularly given the lack on Senate action.

The House this week passed its first two appropriations bills but is not expected to hold many more significant votes before November.

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