Monday, August 18, 2008


Smart Republicans like Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Jeb Hensarling of Texas are starting to recognize their party holds the ultimate trump card in the current energy debate.
In 41 days, the long-imposed moratorium on offshore oil drilling and domestic oil shale production is set to expire -- gone. This happens automatically and can be stopped only if Congress votes to reestablish the ban. Lifting the moratorium might free up as much as 100 years worth of oil and gas for domestic consumption.
But keeping domestic energy supplies off limits is something Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and their environmentalist allies desperately want to do.
Ms. Pelosi has said that stopping new oil production is about "saving the planet." Nevertheless, Mr. DeMint tells me it would be "tough vote for congressional Democrats to make just weeks before an election."
No kidding, with gas prices at near $4 a gallon and polls showing voters supporting an America-first drilling strategy by a two-to-one margin.
An even bigger headache for Democrats, Mr. DeMint has his hands on a letter signed by only 38 Senators who have pledged to maintain the ban. Democrats would need 60 votes to get a budget passed with the drilling moratorium rider attached.
Can Republicans keep it together? A House Democratic leadership aide says Democrats will accuse Republicans of shutting down the government and preventing seniors from collecting Social Security checks. But Democrats run Congress now, so "it will be difficult for Pelosi and her gang to blame the minority Republicans for a congressional train wreck," answers Mr. DeMint.
Yet some Republicans are gun-shy, recalling the failed shutdown strategy of 1995. There's concern that Republican leaders may not be able to hold the line under pressure and that northeastern Republicans might crack.
Newt Gingrich has a more sanguine take: Democrats are going to have a hard time explaining why they "shut down the government to prevent oil drilling," he says.The consensus among conservatives on Capitol Hill aligns with Mr. Gingrich. A high stakes showdown is exactly what these Republicans believe the GOP should be seeking. Democrats are on the run on high gas prices, and the only thing that can bail them out is a bad compromise like the bipartisan so-called "Gang of 10" proposal that calls for higher taxes, more subsidies and leaves two-thirds of the outer continental shelf oil off-limits.
-- Stephen Moore,
writing in today's Wall Street Journal's POLITICAL DIARY ONLINE

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