Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) notified lawmakers Thursday morning that the House, as expected, will not address the Democrats' comprehensive energy legislation until next week.
Party leaders were scrambling to bring their bill to the floor today or Friday, but Hoyer advised members Thursday morning that the House would wrap up its business this afternoon in order to accommodate lawmakers whose districts are in the path of Hurricane Ike.
According to a draft of energy legislation circulating on Capitol Hill, Democrats would allow coastal states to determine whether to allow oil and gas drilling 50 miles off the shoreline. Some congressional Republicans speaking on the House floor and members of the administration offered lukewarm support for the proposal on Thursday, even though the legislation, if successful, could undercut a major GOP talking point this campaign season. But lukewarm support is a far cry from an outright endorsement.
"OPEC's recent decision to cut output reinforces the need to expand domestic oil production to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said Healy Baumgardner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy, responding to an outline of the legislation Democrats are considering. "The time for Congress to lift the ban on offshore exploration is now."
Baumgardner was less enthused about Democratic proposals to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
"The purpose of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) is to provide the United States with oil in the event of an emergency disruption in supply - such as natural disasters, which occurred as a result of Hurricane Gustav - not to manipulate prices or interfere with the markets," Baumgardner said. "Suggestions that we tap the SPR to cool the market are short-sighted, short-lived and short-changing. There is no quick fix to the supply and demand imbalance."