McConnell: No New Energy Taxes

Ah, Washington. Just when you think a deal might be in the works, the conversation changes.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested earlier this week that she might allow a vote on legislation to open some areas for offshore oil and gas exploration, and now Republicans are warning the speaker that that package better not include any provisions to raise taxes.

"I’m willing to look at anything they come up with," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Fox News Wednesday morning. "I hope it's just not packaged in such a way that it socks the tax payers with a huge tax increase, which of course would drive the price of gas at the pump up."

The Republican leader in the Senate believes Democrats will couple any measures to open new areas for oil and gas exploration with corresponding legislation to raise taxes. Democratic leaders in the House are expected to convene a conference call on Wednesday to discuss their options in the energy debate.

Republicans in the House have been pushing an "all of the above" energy policy, but apparently "all of the above" does not include any measures that would increase taxes in order to boost the consumption of renewable sources of energy - those caveats could also include anything requiring energy producers to make onerous investments in renewables.

While this "tax hike" rhetoric might put pure partisans on notice, the Republicans real concern is that Democrats bring a more comprehensive measure to the floor under rules that block them from offering amendments or alternatives. Another round of rank-and-file Republicans expressed concern on Wednesday that Democrats would block them from offering alternative measures in the House, as has become typical in this energy debate. McConnell echoed those fears on Fox News.

"What we really need to have is a real debate like we used to have in the Senate where lots of different amendments were offered and you had a chance to offer whatever you thought would make a difference," McConnell said.

With gas prices going down this month, the GOP leader in the Senate believes Congress should still act in the fall when members return for a brief September session. "I don't think the public has lost interest in getting the price of gas down," McConnell said. "And the truth of the matter is, we need to do absolutely everything."

But the Senate Republican leader is a little less inclined than his GOP colleagues in the House to bring Congress back in session this month. In response to a question about whether he believes President Bush should bring lawmakers back to Washington before the end of the five-week recess, McConnell said, "It's been very good for Congress to go hear from the American people this month...If the Democrats are not more open to offshore drilling, I’ll be surprised."