"Gang of Sixteen" Bipartisan Energy Bill to Reach Senate Floor

The bipartisan “Gang of Sixteen” energy group, which is made up of 8 members from each party, will reportedly get their shot at debating and possibly passing a compromise energy bill which includes a balance of limited offshore drilling and an investment in renewable energy alternatives.

The Associated Press reports:

Democratic leaders in the Senate plan to push a bipartisan energy proposal that would allow for some expansion of offshore drilling when Congress returns next week from a five-week recess.

The plan that would allow Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina to opt into leasing programs starting 50 miles off their shores now has the support of 16 senators — eight Democrats and eight Republicans.

However, it is expected to face opposition from lawmakers in both parties, and with Congress planning to meet for only three weeks before recessing again for the November election, its prospects are dim.

The proposal, not yet introduced as legislation, would also lift a ban on drilling off the Gulf coast of Florida, invest $20 billion on developing petroleum-free motor vehicles and extend expiring tax credits for renewable energy.

Two questions remain with this legislation.  First of all, what additional provisions will be attached to the bill?  Democrats may try for additional renewable and other tax incentives which would be offset by increases in other tax areas, which Republicans would oppose.  Republicans, on the other hand, may try to include a provision to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling on either coast.  Most Democrats would oppose such a move.

Second, and perhaps most important, does either party want to let go of the energy issue as the Fall elections near?  Although some polls suggest that a slight majority of Americans support the Republican idea of lifting the offshore drilling ban, the truth is that the energy issue can be used to fire up the base of both parties.  Would either party want to give up the issue and allow for the possibility that one side may, in the eyes of American voters and / or the media, be seen as the “winner” in the energy debate?

There is no doubt that energy is still an important issue in this election, despite the fact that gas prices have started to level off recently.  But it would seem more likely that both parties would continue the stalemate through this short, three-week session of Congress and allow for the next president to pick back up on the issue in 2009.

More information on the bill can be found here.

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