ENERGY POLICY:

House leaders make closing arguments before holiday weekend

House leaders doubled down on their energy agendas today, with the GOP continuing to tie more domestic drilling to job creation and Democrats sticking to the Medicare-and-oil formula that they credit with securing a special election upset in western New York this week.

In back-to-back appearances, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Republican leadership team made what amounted to closing arguments ahead of a summer driving season that typically focuses political and lobbying might on energy issues. Neither party's plans for gas-cost relief, economic growth and deficit reduction were new -- but that return to tried-and-true arguments suggests that both parties see their entreaties resonating with voters weary of high pump prices.

"A lot of this is about messaging," Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said after he and Pelosi blasted the GOP for slicing the budget of regulators charged with policing oil futures market manipulation.

"This is a complicated issue, but the public needs to understand ... that addressing speculation could decrease gas prices and stabilize them in the future [and] to know that there are efforts to block that by Republicans," Cummings added.

House appropriators this week advanced a 2012 spending plan that cuts 15 percent from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission relative to this year's spending bill, a significant reduction given that the agency had sought an 87 percent bump to pay for implementing limits on oil futures trading aimed at curbing speculation (E&E Daily, May 25).

Pinning the still-high price of gas on Wall Street traders was not the only Democratic perennial planted by Pelosi and Cummings today. The duo spoke in front of a large poster of an oil rig "drilling" on top of a Medicare card -- a prop used earlier this month by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to blast House Republicans for backing a budget that would turn Medicare into a private voucher system while opposing the repeal of tax breaks for oil companies (E&E Daily, May 12).

Voter skepticism of that budget's Medicare revamp is considered the leading factor behind Rep.-elect Kathy Hochul's (D) come-from-behind win Tuesday in a special election for a western New York House seat. Republican leaders, for their part, were hoping to move past the volatile entitlement debate today by unveiling a rebooted jobs plan that calls for broad corporate and individual tax cuts as well as more domestic oil drilling and congressional veto power over executive branch regulations.

Republicans are committed, House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office posted on Twitter, to "efforts to unlock America's energy resources to help address high gas prices & create jobs."

The same push for more oil and gas production was a central goal of the House GOP budget that has driven the bulk of this spring's political battling. Pelosi touched on the long-term cuts of more than 80 percent in non-defense energy research spending that were also part of that GOP budget, telling reporters that Republicans "resisted what we wanted to do in investment in renewable sources, science, innovation. They're trying to undo what we've put into law for job creation."

Republicans generally defend their proposed energy research cuts by noting that the private sector is positioned to support those emerging technologies and projects that are commercially viable.

Internal 'nudge'

Even before Pelosi took the stage, several members of her party were rolling out an energy package cheekily dubbed the "Gas Is Too Damn High" plan. That group, under the aegis of Rep. Bruce Braley's (D-Iowa) Congressional Populist Caucus, vocally prodded President Obama to take a stronger tack on gas price relief.

"We all admire and respect the president, but our caucus has serious issues with some of his economic policy and some of his energy policy because of its negative impact on the middle class," Braley said today. "What we're trying to do is nudge him and his administration to give consideration to some of these initiatives we think would be wildly popular across the board in all of our districts."

The initiatives he referred to include a release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, an option that the White House has not ruled out in recent weeks but has hardly endorsed; a repeal of oil industry tax breaks in line with those recently proposed to no avail by Democrats; and a CFTC crackdown on oil futures speculation.

A final facet of the populists' plan, introduced in legislative form this year by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), would impose a 0.01 percent tax on individual oil futures transactions and use the proceeds to trim the deficit. Such a proposal has attracted vigorous push-back from the financial industry when offered in previous years, but its inclusion suggests that more liberal Democrats are eager to take on Wall Street energy traders in ways that go beyond CFTC funding and oversight.

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