Wednesday, September 10, 2008

House GOP Threatens Shutdown Over Drilling

House GOP Threatens Shutdown Over Drilling

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House Republicans signaled Monday that they are ready to cut off government spending over the issue of offshore drilling, though the party’s Senate leader said he hopes to reach an energy deal and avoid a shutdown.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner , R-Ohio, called a Democratic energy proposal to allow limited offshore drilling inadequate. Boehner said House Republicans would vote against a spending resolution needed to keep the government running when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1 unless restrictions on offshore drilling are dropped from it.

“We’re going to insist that any continuing resolution that passes does not continue the drilling ban,” Boehner said.

Boehner’s threat is largely symbolic, as Democrats control enough votes in the House to pass a spending bill over Republican objections. But Republican cooperation will be needed to pass such a resolution in the Senate, where 60 votes are necessary to overcome a filibuster.

“There is still time to act on this issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , R-Ky. “And we should.”

While McConnell downplayed talk of a government shutdown, other Senate Republicans said they would vote against any funding resolution that includes the ban on offshore drilling expansions, which has been renewed in appropriations bills since 1992 and was most recently included in the fiscal 2008 omnibus spending bill (PL 110-161).

“We have to take that moratorium away,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison , R-Texas.

The call for more offshore drilling has been a powerful election-year issue for Republicans, with appeal to taxpayers unhappy with higher energy prices. Chants of “Drill!” filled the Republican National Convention last week, and GOP lawmakers kept a daily vigil in the House chamber during the summer recess. Republican bloggers and talk show hosts have attacked party members trying to negotiate a bipartisan Senate compromise.

“For the last five months, we have used this issue effectively to put Democrats on the defensive, and that’s going to continue into November,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Boehner.

But even as they try to defuse the politically charged issue with legislation allowing limited new offshore oil and gas exploration, Democrats warn that a government shutdown would boomerang against Republicans.

“Let’s be clear,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev. “Shutting down the government means that senior citizens stop receiving checks and veterans stop receiving health care.”

Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau said Republicans are kidding themselves if they think a shutdown will help them politically.

“If Republicans want to have a debate about denying senior citizens Social Security checks and health care, that’s a debate we’re willing to have,” he said.

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