Political Hay

Pumped and Primed

Republicans resume their drill on Capitol Hill.

By 9.9.08

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Celebrating the end of the House Republicans' five-week energy protest, Florida congressman Adam Putnam beamed from the Capitol steps, "The House Republicans would like to welcome the Democrats back to Washington, D.C.!"

Unfortunately for Putnam, Republican Leader John Boehner, and the other House Republicans who turned out for the press conference, the only Democrats on the Capitol building steps were members of the Sierra Club, Audubon Society, and other environmental groups. Dressed as polar bears, holding signs with lines such as "Drill it, Spill it, Kill it," and chanting "Shame on Big Oil!" the roughly a hundred protesters managed to hijack the crowning moment of the Republicans' own protest. The Republicans, however, aren't as worried about protesters as they are confident in their energy strategy for the fall elections.

Since August 1, when Majority leader Nancy Pelosi suspended Congress for a five-week vacation, delaying a vote on domestic oil production, over one hundred House Republicans returned to D.C. to stage a protest over the Democrats' inaction on the House floor. When Pelosi had the House microphones and lights turned off, they, unplugged and in the dark, demanded that Congress return for an energy vote.

Sensing a chance to seize control of a major storyline for November, the Republicans tried to hustle as many journalists and visitors onto the House floor to listen to Republicans rail against Pelosi's obstruction of an important vote on a winning issue for Republicans. Although the House chamber C-SPAN cameras were turned off, and the mainstream press mostly ignored their efforts, the Republicans used blogs, Twitter, and word of mouth to try to publicize their foregone vacation.

Now, with the Democrats back from vacation and the offshore drilling ban set to expire at the end of the month, the Republicans want finally to force Pelosi to hold an up-or-down vote on the American Energy Act. "All we ask for is for Pelosi, Reid, and Obama to work with us... and open debate on a comprehensive U.S. energy plan," Putnam announced to cheers from his fellow House Republicans and loud boos from the protesters.

IT'S OBVIOUS, though, that the Republicans don't think the demonstrators on the Capitol steps are representative of the U.S. electorate. Indiana's Mike Pence hit the populist note, shouting, "Speaker Pelosi, you can turn off the lights on the House floor and turn off the mics, but you can't silence the voices of the American people." He also went straight to the heart of the issue: "The price of energy is costing U.S. jobs."

Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee also stressed the economic importance of drilling, complaining that "the family budget can only take so much." Boehner gave the environmentally friendly an excuse to hop on the "drill now" bandwagon, claiming oil revenues mean, "the more drilling, the more renewables investment."

A vote on energy and offshore drilling could come this week, but at this point votes have more to do with politics than with energy policy. The people cried out, "drill, baby, drill" at the Republican National Convention, and even Nancy Pelosi heard them. While she remains committed to opposing offshore drilling and drilling in ANWR to appease the hard left, she encouraged junior members with tough races ahead of them to support drilling measures.

Before the spike in oil and gas prices this summer, the economy and energy were losing issues for the Republicans. Once gas crept above $4 in June, however, the Democrats' monopoly environmentalism was rendered useless as Americans embraced Newt Gingrich's "Drill here. Drill now. Pay less."

At that point, the Republicans, not beholden to green constituents, pressed their advantage by refusing to go on vacation, thereby casting Pelosi and Barack Obama as out of touch with the people's economic struggles, and John McCain (who subsequently picked an extremely pro-drilling running mate) and other Republicans as men of the people.

During the Republicans' protest in the darkened House, Pelosi even compromised so far as to promise a vote on offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan. She and the Democrats moved too late, however, to prevent the Republicans from accumulating the political capital that they began cashing in yesterday with a press conference on the steps of the Capitol.

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About the Author

Joseph Lawler, former managing editor of The American Spectator, is editor of Real Clear Policy. Follow him on twitter: @josephlawler.