Looks like the Congressional Democrats are shrewd enough to take on the GOP big lie that Republicans in Congress actually believe in an “all of the above” energy policy (see “The Big Energy Lie — Blog round-up“). Greenwire reports today that “Democrats plot strategy for putting GOP on its heels” (subs. req’d):
Democrats plan to return to Washington and the campaign trail next week with a message on offshore drilling that they say will put Republicans on the defensive….
On Capitol Hill, congressional Democrats say they will try to corner the Republicans by offering them votes on their own agenda with Democratic priorities mixed in.”We’re about to do a political reverse takedown on the Republicans,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Top House Democrats say that shortly after Congress reconvenes, they will put on the floor a piece of legislation that will include an expansion of offshore drilling but also a renewable electricity mandate, energy-efficiency standards for buildings and oil industry tax provisions.
Some Democrats have started to describe the legislation and the broader message on energy as “all of the above” — a term first coined by House Republicans to describe their own legislation.
I have been saying for more than a month a deal makes sense on both policy and political grounds (see “Since offshore oil is de minimis, why shouldn’t Obama and the Dems make a deal? Part 1“). I do think the House is making a mistake pushing a renewable electricity mandate rather than a long-term extension of the renewable energy tax cuts found in the Senate Deal (see “The good, the bad and the ugly of the Gang-of-10 drilling deal, Part 2: Something for nothing?“). I will blog on that when Congress returns.
Here is the rest of the story:
“We’ll see whether the proponents of all of the above can take yes for an answer,” said David Sandalow, a former Clinton administration official and an energy adviser to the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.
Democrats said their bill is a work in progress and offered few specifics, but they expressed confidence it would force Republicans into a tough spot.
“That’s going to be a very difficult vote for a lot of these people,” Markey said. “We’ll put it all in there, and if somehow or other we get the majority of Republicans to vote for that, we’ll have a revolution on our hands, and if we don’t, we’re going to have a revolution November 4th on our hands.”
Democrats insist the bill would be a genuine legislative effort, but even if it passes the House, the legislation figures to face a tough slog in the Senate.
House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said the inclusion of an offshore drilling provision showed Democratic leaders were being receptive to the needs of some in their caucus.
“It’s our effort to address all of our caucus that represents the concerns of the American people,” Rahall said. “And so we’re taking that input in the development of the legislation.”
House Republicans, meanwhile, have already started to dismiss the potential plan as a gimmick and have given little indication that the Democratic bid for an offshore drilling vote will do much to sway the Republican caucus.
“The American people support our plan, and they have every right to demand that Speaker Pelosi allow a vote on our energy reforms,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). “They deserve more than yet another Democratic scheme that will do nothing to lower gasoline prices or reduce home heating costs.”
Campaign message emphasizes alternative energy
But even as Democrats warm to offshore drilling on Capitol Hill, the party is making it clear that its message on the campaign trail — especially in the White House race — will focus on alternative energy, and that it will continue to attack Republicans for embracing what Democrats describe as a pro-oil-industry position.
Obama — who has recently said he could support offshore drilling as part of a broader energy proposal — attacked his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, on the issue during his acceptance speech last Thursday.
“Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last 30 years,” the Illinois senator said. “Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stopgap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.”
And in speech after speech during the Democratic convention, top Democrats attempted to paint McCain’s and other Republicans’ embrace of offshore drilling as bending to the desires of the oil companies.
“Even the leaders in the oil industry know that Sen. McCain has it wrong. We can’t simply drill our way to energy independence, even if you drilled everywhere, if you drilled in all of John McCain’s backyards, even the ones he doesn’t know he has.” Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said in a rousing convention speech.
“There just isn’t enough oil in America, on land or offshore, to meet America’s full energy needs,” Schweitzer said.
But even as top party officials aggressively went after McCain’s position on drilling, some Democrats grudgingly admitted that the presumptive Republican nominee had managed to score political points with his aggressive pro-drilling positions.
“I think we’ve moved the dial a little bit, but we were clearly — both the Obama campaign and Democrats in Congress — were losing the ‘drilling, no drilling’ argument,” said Dan Carol, issues director for the Obama campaign.
But Carol and other Obama allies also say they believe they have successfully steered the campaign dialogue back toward green jobs and renewables.
“The conversation has moved a lot more toward … a big, job-creating national renewable project that we can take on here,” Carol said in Denver last week. “We’re in favor of it; John McCain is in favor of Big Oil.
“I hope that we’ve flipped McCain on the mat,” he said. “We haven’t gotten the points yet, and I think we’ll be able to pick up those points if things go well.”
Republicans maintain that despite the Democrats’ confidence, voters will still turn to McCain as the candidate who will present more concrete solutions rather than to someone promising solutions many years down the road.
“Hope for renewables in 10 years is just that — a hope,” said Frank Donatelli, deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee. “What we need is an aggressive program to develop more energy right now — that means drilling offshore, that means more nuclear and more coal.”
Environmentalists admit slow response
Environmentalists admit they were slow to respond to the GOP’s attacks on energy. And just like the politicians, advocacy groups say they will fire back by aggressively promoting an alternative energy message — one that they maintain will still prevail with voters.
“Voters are for drilling, but they’re tepid about it; they don’t think it’s going to make a big difference,” said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. “The fact is, the message ‘You’re too close to Big Oil’ will trump [the] message ‘I’m for drilling off the coast’ every time.”
Officials from environmental groups and various other party backers said that is exactly the message that they intend to focus on through November — that McCain and other Republicans are acting at the behest of the oil companies.
And Democratic officials said one of the reasons — though a somewhat minor one — that lawmakers rushed toward a pro-drilling position was the lack of any kind of voice from the other side.
“Nobody heard from [environmentalists] in their district office, nobody heard from them during that discussion — they were simply not there,” said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Still, environmentalists and Democratic politicians believe that once voters hear an aggressive pro-green message, they will quickly embrace such policies over calls for more drilling.
“I think [the voters were] scared — there wasn’t a whole lot of leadership in Congress on what is the right response to give American people in response from high gas prices, so there was sort of a panic,” said Elise Jones, executive director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Now that people have taken a deep breath and oil prices have started to go down, let’s go back to the solution path that makes the most sense.”