Americans Take Back the House

History was made in the House of Representatives on Aug. 1 at 11:20 a.m. when Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) led a cadre of Republicans, including John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) in a remarkable protest.

They stormed the House floor with the lights dimmed and the microphones turned off by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to demand a vote on new domestic production of oil. Republicans have pledged to continue the protest until the Democratic leadership allows an up-or-down vote on drilling and more domestic production of oil to reduce gasoline prices for American consumers.

A House leadership aide told me that this rebellion started because members were shocked and upset that Pelosi wasn’t “allowing members to make their traditional special order speeches.” As a result, “a few members decided to make their speeches anyway to the guests in the gallery.” The rebellion grew out a few speeches and lead to a “six hour protest, which in turn led to the current multi-week campaign.” What started as a few members protesting the strong-arm tactics of the Speaker has lead to a daily protest in the House chamber.

For months, Americans have sat by as lawmakers refused to act on the escalating energy crisis. Instead, liberals in Congress cast blame on American investors, American oil companies and Americans who don’t fully inflate their tires. Even though gas prices have started to ease over the past few weeks, conservatives should be weary of complacency, especially among their elected officials. Gasoline prices could easily surge back above $4 a gallon in the event of a supply disruption or any further weakening of the dollar.

Demonstrating that not every member of Congress is oblivious to the pain being felt by Americans, dozens of Republicans stayed in Washington, D.C. to protest the lack of democratic action on high gas prices moments after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) gaveled the House of Representatives into recess. Each day since, the number of Republicans participating has grown. “This is the People’s House, and the American people want a voice in this debate,” Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.) said.

As the American people flooded into the House Chamber to witness history, it became apparent the debate was one-sided — not a liberal to be found (with the exception of Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who seemed amused by the proceedings). Rep. Jon Kline (R-Minn.) said Republicans “would love to have our Democrat colleagues here.” However, that’s unlikely to happen, since President Bush said he wouldn’t call Congress back to Washington and House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) has continued her opposition to any solutions that are pro-American energy.

As liberals remain disengaged and outright hostile to American energy production, the country — and to some extent the presidential candidates — appear to be passing them by. According to a recent Gallup poll, 89% of Americans believe congressional inaction has been an “important reason” that gas prices have reached record highs. Not surprisingly, a slew of new polls indicate a majority of Americans want to access America’s energy offshore, including 57% of liberals, 57% of Floridians and 51% of Californians. Deftly reading the tea leaves in June, John McCain announced his support for offshore energy exploration, and Barack Obama admitted he had to refine his position because Republicans have been so effective in their messaging.

What, then, could explain Pelosi’s steadfast resistance to allowing a real debate and vote on American energy exploration? The Politico suggests that Pelosi is just biding her time until the Democrats control every lever of power in Washington next year. Rep. Westmoreland offers this explanation: “A San Francisco mentality is controlling the energy policy of our country. She [Pelosi] is making her constituency happy while ours is suffering.”

There is no doubt that working and middle-class America is suffering. A colleague of mine at The Heritage Foundation, Karen Campbell, points out that as consumers dip into their personal savings to cover their rising costs, they are likely to increase borrowing, which results in less savings, higher interest payments, constrained spending, poor economic growth and a lower standard of living.

The good news for Americans is that come Oct. 1, the 27-year-old congressional moratorium on offshore energy production will expire. The bad news is that liberals in Congress can block new drilling by continuing the congressional ban on exploration without a vote on the issue. Conservatives should not rest until Americans have access to American energy and should demand that Congress take no action that doesn’t result in new domestic exploration and drilling.