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Senate blocks GOP bill to expand offshore drilling

The Ensco 8501 ultra-deepwater semisubmersible drilling rig Keppel Corp.

By a vote of 42 to 57, the Senate on Wednesday voted down a Republican bill designed to expand offshore oil drilling by requiring the Obama administration to speed up decisions on drilling permits.

The bill also mandated that the government conduct lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia that were suspended after the BP oil spill.

The House passed legislation taking similar steps earlier this month. With many Americans facing $4 per gallon gas prices, Republicans cast the vote as an effort to increase domestic supply and thus lower prices.

The vote followed an announcement by the Obama administration that it would increase domestic oil production by extending certain existing offshore leases and also hold more lease sales in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve. It also followed a vote yesterday on a Democrat-backed bill to revoke $2 billion in tax breaks for oil companies. The bill was blocked, largely by Republicans.

Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts said the bill would "put more Americans back to work [and] add to the global supply of crude which over time will undoubtedly help to stabilize prices."

Experts, however, say any effect on gas prices would be minimal and wouldn't come for years, CBS Radio Capitol Hill correspondent Bob Fuss reports.The United States holds about 2 percent of the world's oil reserves but uses about 25 percent of the world's oil.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said the GOP bill would lead to more drilling "with less safety and regulation of the industry."

"You would think that the BP oil spill never happened," he added.

Republicans see gas prices as a potent issue heading into the 2012 election. "Year after year, politicians in Washington talk about steps to ease the pain at the pump, but they never act," Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., said over the weekend.

Democrats have sought to contrast Republican opposition to ending subsidies for oil companies with their claims at fiscal discipline. "The American people shouldn't be subsidizing oil companies at a time when they're making near-record profits," President Obama said in his weekly radio address.

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