Pelosi Blinks on Energy Vote

In the showdown between House Republicans and Speaker Nancy Pelosi over an up-or-down vote on increasing American oil supply by opening up offshore drilling, Pelosi blinked before a national TV audience on Larry King Live Monday night. When asked by King about bringing Congress back into session for a vote, Pelosi responded in part, “[Republicans] have this thing that says drill offshore in the protected areas. Well, we can do that. We can have a vote on that.”

Before her book tour flopped, Pelosi haughtily informed Republicans that they needed to “imagine” a vote. As monumental as that capitulation to public pressure appeared to be on the surface, there were even more stunning statements made by Pelosi in this interview.

When asked by King if she would vote for a package that included drilling, buried in her rambling response was this tidbit from our dear Speaker: “The American taxpayer owns this oil offshore, by the way. Let me make this one final point. This oil is owned by the American taxpayers. The oil companies drill. We give them money to drill there. But we get very little in return.”

Those words could have just as easily come out of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Could Nationalization Nancy be so rattled by the success of the House Republican protest that she would flash us her slip in this manner?

When I caught up to Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) in the House Republican cloakroom on Tuesday, I asked him for a reaction to Pelosi’s statement. Franks — a former oil man — explained, “There is a legal framework in this country wherein… people gain title for what they produce and put into the market. Oil is no different than that. The oil where it is now means nothing to taxpayers or anyone else — they can’t use it where it is. We allow oil companies who have the expertise and the capability to go out and drill and make money doing it — that is the very definition of the free enterprise system that has served us all for over 230 years. If we somehow get the idea, as the Soviets and their Politburo have done in the past, that we can just make the collectivist argument as the Speaker has done here, then I promise you we are in for some very difficult days ahead.”

When King asked about bringing Congress back for a vote, Pelosi’s long and winding answer included this brilliance: “If they want to drill, we have 68 million acres in the Lower 48 that they can drill in that are permitted and all the rest.” Why didn’t the Republicans think of that?

I asked Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) about that. He remarked, “We want to drill where the oil is. You don’t go grocery shopping in the hardware store. We know the oil is in Alaska, we know it’s in ANWR. It’s within 70 miles of the Alaska pipeline so the infrastructure would be a minimum. We are the only civilized nation that I know of that is not using its own natural resources for its energy. Why would we want to stay dependent on foreign oil? Why would we want to send Hugo Chavez $170 million per year? God only knows what we send the Saudis. It’s just unbelievable. It’s just that San Francisco mentality that Pelosi brings as the Speaker of the House.”

Back on the House Republican protest front, Pelosi’s fractional surrender was, unsurprisingly, met with skepticism. In a written statement from John Boehner (R-OH), the Republican House Leader challenged Pelosi to bring the House back into session for a vote. “If Speaker Pelosi is truly sincere about having a vote on oil and gas drilling to help bring down fuel costs, she should use her power as speaker to call congress back into session immediately and schedule a vote on the American Energy Act,” Boehner said.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) was one of those who began this revolt when Pelosi hastily adjourned the House for a five-week vacation back on August 1st and blocked an up-or-down vote on domestic drilling. Pence told Indiana public radio, “I think that it’s a very significant statement by Speaker Nancy Pelosi last night that, to use her words, the House ‘can have a vote’ on more domestic drilling. This represents evidence that the Democratic leadership is hearing from the American people, is hearing from many Democrats in the Congress who would like the opportunity to vote on more domestic drilling. And I welcome it. But I still believe that Congress should not wait until this fall or sometime around Christmas after the elections to give American people more access to American oil.”

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) took his turn at the helm and wasted no time taking advantage of skills honed as a teacher in inner-city schools where he worked to pay his way through law school. In the opening to his speech, he passed around his House Member voting card to the audience as he explained the machinery in front of them at each member’s seat and the voting process for each member. When later asked for comment on Pelosi’s apparent reversal, Chabot said, “I think she’s starting to waver now because she knows an issue like this will hurt her majority. She represents one of the most, if not the most, liberal district[s] in the country. She is not conservative on any issue. She probably reflects a significant number of people in her district but her responsibility is to represent the entire country as the Speaker of the House. I think thus far on energy she has failed in that responsibility.”

By the afternoon yesterday, emails had gone out announcing that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) had launched their new website in an effort to, “… protect October 1, 2008 as American Energy Freedom Day.” Unless legislation passes to renew them, on October 1st the bans on both offshore drilling and shale oil recovery will end. DeMint and Hensarling are asking for public support in signing their petition there addressed to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Pelosi.

Further evidence that the Republicans are on the move and the Democrats are in disarray.