It’s enough to make you weep. Conservative House Republicans — led by Indiana’s Mike Pence and Georgia’s Tom Price — took Friday’s spontaneous outburst against Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s summer adjournment without a vote on offshore drilling and turned it into an organized revolt that was melting the Capitol’s telephone and fax lines. And then the White House announced that the President wouldn’t call the House back for a special session to deal with the gasoline price crisis.
But the House Republicans aren’t dismayed. This isn’t about the President, one told me last evening. It’s about putting pressure on the Speaker. They plan to have a full team on the House floor at least all this week.
Yesterday, I sat on the House floor – among members, staff, tourists and other journalists – while Reps. Pence, Price, Duncan Hunter (R-Ca) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tx) made impassioned but well-reasoned speeches about why Congress should return from its just begun 5-week taxpayer-funded vacation to vote on an energy bill aimed at relieving the problem that’s affecting every American voter.
The Republicans’ action began as a stunt on Friday and by Monday had evolved into a well-organized effort that might just succeed: if enough pressure were brought on Pelosi to force a vote on a comprehensive energy package, she might have to budge either by bringing Congress back in August (admittedly a very long-shot) or by holding a vote when the House reconvenes in September.
Republicans, as Hensarling said, define “comprehensive” as not “drill or, but drill and”, meaning that they would couple conservation measures with opening offshore drilling and on-land oil reserves such as the Colorado oil shale.
By Monday, Pence and Price had gotten about twenty fellow Republicans to come back for the new debate, and more were still being rounded up. As many as one hundred may be back by week’s end. If they are successful in building momentum this week, the debates will go on — possibly — all the way into September.
Pence told the audience, “Because the American people aren’t getting a vacation from $4/gallon gasoline, Congress shouldn’t be taking a 5-week paid vacation.” He added, “Congress should be working in a bipartisan manner to give the American people more access to American oil.”
Hensarling (chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the official conservative Republican group) told me in a brief interview in the Republican cloakroom that it was rather doubtful that Pelosi would call Congress back. Pelosi, he said, was “wedded to a San Francisco extremist ideology that prevents her from understanding the pain being felt by real people.”
Both Pence and Hensarling understand the most important underlying issue. America’s is an oil-based economy. No matter how much people dream of converting to wind power or solar power or whatever, to bring relief to American consumers in the next several years, the answer has to be an increased supply of oil.
I asked Hensarling why, when America is so energy-rich, was our government insisting we remain energy-poor?
He said, “When Brazil discovered huge new offshore oil reserves, it caused a national celebration. It was a matter of pride. When we discover oil here – in Nancy Pelosi’s congress – it’s treated as a matter of shame.”
Later, on the House floor, Hensarling asked, “shouldn’t Congress cancel their vacation plans when families are canceling theirs because of high gas prices?” He invited Americans to call Pelosi’s office to express their support for the Republican revolt, giving the main Capitol number, 202-224-3121. (Pelosi’s office numbers are 202-225-0100 and 225-4965).
Pence, in his speech, pointed to a chart that showed about a half-dozen issues which Pelosi found time for debate in the House, such as “National Passport Month.”
The President’s announcement that he would not call Congress back for a special session may not kill the House revolt. And, in fact, it shouldn’t. For the same reason that the President’s immigration bill died in the Senate last year, this group of Republicans — finally finding their voice after being suppressed by Pelosi for more than a year — have a winning issue. And Americans are supporting them the same way we supported the opponents of the immigration bill last year.
Pence told me the phones were almost melting. Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and many of the other most prominent talk radio hosts were weighing in, accelerating the huge volume of calls and e-mails coming in.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Az) yesterday challenged congress to return to vote on legislation that would include the barriers to offshore drilling. He promised to return from the campaign trail to vote.
Make those calls, folks. Send those e-mails. This could be a winner.