Will The “Drill, Baby, Drill” Temper Tantrum Shut Down Our Government?

Bill Scher

The conservative delegates in St. Paul did not chant, “All of the Above.” They chanted, “Drill, Baby, Drill.”

So much has coastal drilling gotten conservatives foaming at the mouth, that they’re barely bothering with the pretense that they believe in a comprehensive energy policy.

While conservatives continue their extended temper tantrum, the current ban on most coastal drilling expires September 30th, putting pressure on congressional leaders.

With Congress back in session, congressional leaders are planning to put compromise packages on the floor. As I explained last month, the basic approach would allow for some additional drilling while also repealing tax breaks and sweetheart royalty deals for Big Oil, and channeling the revenue into generating clean energy. CQ (sub. req’d) reported yesterday on the planned strategy:

[House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] has said she will schedule a vote soon on a comprehensive energy package that includes some new drilling with environmental safeguards.

This strategy is expected to proceed on two parallel tracks. Congress will consider standalone energy legislation aimed at resolving the issue. And separately, leaders will decide whether to extend the expiring moratorium.

Democrats say they hope Republicans will feel the need to join in a proposal to link limited offshore drilling with efforts to promote renewable energy. If Republicans do accept that plan, then Democratic leaders could add language reflecting the agreement to a stopgap continuing resolution that is planned to finance government programs until early next year. Lawmakers are aiming to pass a continuing resolution this fall because they don’t intend to finish the coming year’s regular spending bills before the November elections.

If the two parties cannot reach agreement, however, then some Democrats predict their party will extend the drilling ban for another year, without opening up any new areas, as part of the continuing resolution.

The Pelosi package is likely to place a long list of protective restrictions on new exploration, such as buffer zones that would bar drilling close to shore and requirements that state officials first agree. Her package would probably also strip oil and gas companies of about $18 billion in tax benefits they currently receive. And she would make oil companies pay the government royalties that have been in dispute and force them to use cash to pay royalties on leases rather than using oil swaps.

In exchange, the measure would be designed to win support from environmental activists by setting aside billions of dollars over the next decade to be invested in alternative fuels and to subsidize mass transit, while requiring utilities to produce a certain amount of electricity from renewable fuels. A key ally of environmentalists, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., would also like to encourage green building design and accelerate implementation of tougher vehicle fuel economy standards.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has promised a vote, probably the week after a Sept. 12 energy summit, on a bill put together by a group of 16 senators that would increase spending on renewable energy sources while opening areas, including the eastern Gulf of Mexico, to more drilling. That plan would lift the ban beyond a buffer zone.

What’s the response to this attempt at compromise among some leading congressional conservatives? Shut down our entire federal government!

No, I’m not kidding.

Because conservative leaders are so deep in the pocket of Big Oil, they are vehemently against any compromise that doesn’t give Big Oil everything it wants.

Presuming Senate conservatives are able to filibuster any compromise energy package, they could then try to throttle the “stopgap” financing bill that would renew the current ban along with funding the operations of our federal government — either by filibuster or by sustaining a possible presidential veto.

A second CQ report notes that there are more rumblings about a shutdown among House conservatives than Senate conservatives, suggesting some awareness that the tenuous public support for coastal drilling has its limits.

But the differing reactions indicate that conservatives are struggling to deal with their own success.

Conservatives got a lot of mileage by couching coastal drilling as part of an “All of the Above” approach. Problem for them is, they don’t actually believe in “All of the Above.” They believe in “Drill, Baby, Drill.” Listen to the chants.

Conservatives believe in propping up Big Oil with our tax dollars, shielding oil companies (and oil-soaked dictators) from having to compete with clean energy, and denying us affordable energy choices.

But because of the conservatives’ effective summer propaganda campaign — which falsely claimed coastal drilling would lower gas prices — they moved the congressional leadership.

Now, conservatives are going to be faced with an “all of the above” bill that, despite the additional drilling, makes Big Oil mad. (For more detail, check out Climate Progress which has been digging in to the compromise.)

Conservatives will be put on the spot before September 30: compromise for the public interest, or continue the temper tantrum for Big Oil’s interest.

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