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House GOP Refashions Energy Plan

With gas prices not soaring as expected, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has shifted his upcoming legislative push on energy issues, recasting a package of domestic energy production measures as a jobs bill.

McCarthy, who outlined his plan during a “coalitions” meeting with outside groups such as the Consumer Energy Alliance, National Federal of Independent Businesses and the National Association of Manufacturers, was scheduled to brief the Republican Conference on the legislation this morning before a public rollout later in the afternoon.

McCarthy on Tuesday made it clear that for Republicans, energy, the economy and jobs are inextricably tied together and that the GOP will make gas prices a central theme of its messaging throughout the summer.

“This legislation has the potential to spur the economic growth that will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and bring down gas prices from the ‘new normal’ of $3.50 per gallon, the current national average,” McCarthy said.

Jobs rhetoric aside, the bill, which is a collection of measures already passed by various House committees, is squarely aimed at boosting oil and gas production in the United States. The bill would “freeze” a suite of proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations that Republicans oppose, expedite permitting for oil and gas production on federal lands, require an increase in domestic production if the administration taps the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to reduce gas prices and clear some obstacles to exploration of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

Missing from the package are big-ticket items such as the Keystone XL pipeline or language opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which, while popular with the base, are poison pills that would doom the legislation before it even came to the floor.

According to a GOP leadership aide, McCarthy and Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) — who will formally introduce the bill today — avoided including “politically pointed” provisions, and McCarthy hopes that “these are niche enough” that they can garner Democratic support despite the otherwise-hostile legislative climate.

This source said McCarthy is hoping to replicate Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (Va.) successful jobs legislative push earlier this year.

The energy package is “similar to the JOBS Act. You have all these bills that have [largely] gone through the committee process … and we’re going to roll them into one package,” the aide said, adding that they all passed out of committee with Democratic support.

Republicans had originally expected to use the normal spike in gas prices that comes with the summer driving season as a political bludgeon against the White House and Democrats. After all, in the past the GOP used gas prices as a successful, if transient, wedge issue, most notably during the summer of 2008.

With gas prices soaring and Democrats in control of the House, Republicans staged a public “protest” against then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) decision to send lawmakers home for the August recess. For several days, Republicans conducted “sit-ins” on the House floor, giving speeches on gas prices and causing a public spectacle.

The effort worked, swinging public support behind the GOP and its calls for an “all of the above” strategy to energy.

Of course, when gas prices dropped in September, the issue quickly evaporated, as did any gains Republicans had seen.

This year, however, is significantly different. Gas prices appear to have peaked earlier in the spring and have been on the decline ever since. At the same time, anxiety over the economy has worsened, particularly in the wake of last week’s jobs report.

Combined with persistent complaints about energy prices and polling indicating it remains a chronic concern for voters, Republicans believe tying it to their broader economic attacks on the White House is a winning strategy.

“Last Friday’s abysmal employment report should be a wake-up call to the president and Senate Democrats. They cannot continue to sit on their hands while 13 million Americans remain out of work,” McCarthy said Tuesday, arguing that his bill “will help job creators in the energy industry invest more in American-made energy and American-made jobs.”

Given the politically toxic atmosphere in Congress and the difficult nature of energy legislation, short of a major spike in energy prices later this summer, it appears unlikely the legislation will make it much further than the House floor. Still, McCarthy will bring the legislation up this month and insisted lawmakers can find common ground.“By working together, we can … help put our country back on the road to recovery by creating jobs and growing our economy,” McCarthy said.

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