Politics & Government

Congress mired in partisan impasse on energy

Congress appeared to be deadlocked Wednesday on how the federal government should respond to the nation's energy problems amid a bitterly partisan rift over whether to open long-restricted offshore waters to oil and gas drilling.

A Democratic proposal aimed at countering oil market speculation fell victim to the drilling dispute, failing in a 276-151 vote.

That was nine votes short of the two-thirds needed for approval because the measure had been offered under expedited rules imposed by the Democrats to avoid attempts by Republicans to attach a provision for offshore drilling.

A Senate bill, also aimed at curbing abuses in the oil markets, has been stalled for two weeks as Republicans have insisted that it be opened to votes on a variety of other energy issues, principally offshore oil and gas drilling in areas long under development bans because of environmental concerns.

The House bill would have given new authority to the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to oversee oil markets, increase the agency's staff and set new requirements on certain trading.

Market critics have argued that excessive speculation has contributed to the soaring oil prices.

At the White House, President Bush for the second time in two days called for lifting the offshore drilling bans, saying that the Democratic-run Congress is letting down the American people by refusing to allow votes on the matter.

“The American people are rightly frustrated by the failure of the Democratic leaders in Congress to enact commonsense solutions,” the president said, even while acknowledging that access to oil and natural gas in off-limits coastal waters would be a long-term solution and would not lower today's soaring gasoline prices.

Bush has lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling signed by his father in 1990, but that has no effect until Congress lifts its prohibitions, as well. Some of the moratoria along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico have been in place for 27years.

“All the Democratic leaders have to do is to allow a vote,” Bush said. “They should not leave Washington without doing so.”

By all indications, lawmakers will depart at the end of the week for their five-week summer recess without taking action on energy.