Democrats have decided to allow a quarter-century ban on drilling for oil off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to expire next week, conceding defeat in an months-long battle with the White House and Republicans set off by $4 a gallon gasoline prices this summer.
Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., told reporters Tuesday that a provision continuing the moratorium will be dropped this year from a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running after Congress recesses for the election.
Republicans have made lifting the ban a key campaign issue after gasoline prices spiked this summer and public opinion turned in favor of more drilling. President Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling in July.
"If true, this capitulation by Democrats following months of Republican pressure is a big victory for Americans struggling with record gasoline prices," said House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio.
Democrats had clung to the hope of only a partial repeal of the drilling moratorium, but the White House had promised a veto, Obey said.
But don't celebrate because in the big scheme of things it really doesn't mean much.
Why do I say that? Well, between now and when the new Congress meets, absolutely nothing will happen concerning expanding offshore drilling - nothing.
Zip, zero, nada.
But what allowing the ban to expire does for Democrats is give themselves room to play perception games with voters.
"Oh, yes, we let the ban expire".
Then in January when they head back to Congress with an expected larger majority than they now have in both the House and the Senate, plus, they hope, a Democrat in the White House, the ban or what will be essentially the same thing, will find its way into law:
Democrats are expected to press for broader energy legislation, probably next year, that would put limits on any drilling off most of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
"The future resolution of offshore drilling will have to be addressed with a new president," Drew Hamill, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.
Then in January when they head back to Congress with an expected larger majority than they now have in both the House and the Senate, plus, they hope, a Democrat in the White House,
I find it deeply and very satisfyingly ironic that what may end up being one of the contributing factors to the Democrats in fact not sweeping both houses and the Presidency is the fact that by so diligently waiting until they were firmly in power to do, well, anything, the American people may end up rejecting them for precisely the fact that they did nothing.
Somewhat more unfortunately in the long term, if that does go badly for this Congress I’m sure the lesson will not be lost on future Congresses....