Oil drilling spat derails House funding bills
A Republican effort to force a vote on opening up more land to drilling on Thursday threatened to bring the annual appropriations process in the U.S. House of Representatives to a halt.
Democrats, who control the House, shut down Appropriations Committee work on two major federal funding bills after Republicans tried to force a vote on drilling.
"I think we've probably had our last meeting of the year," Chairman David Obey heatedly told reporters after the bill-drafting session broke up.
The meeting was called to work on Labor and Agriculture department bills. Republicans tried to attach the Interior Department bill -- the opening for an oil-drilling debate -- to the Labor bill.
"I'm not going to be blackmailed," Obey responded.
The incident underscores prickly relations in Congress as gasoline prices top $4 a gallon ahead of November's presidential and congressional elections.
Democrats blame the Bush administration for letting energy prices soar. Republicans say Democrats have no solutions and are pushing to open up more offshore areas and Alaska's refuge to drilling and ending the ban on U.S. oil shale production.
Environmental groups who tend to support Democrats oppose opening more land for drilling.
"There is overwhelming evidence that the American people support the kinds of energy reforms that should be included in this bill, including make use of our vast domestic energy reserves," said California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the Republican leader on the Appropriations Committee,
Later in the day, two House Republican leaders said sentiment in Congress was swinging toward steps such as more oil and gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf. Assistant Republican Leader Roy Blunt said his party may try to call a floor vote on drilling.
"I think there is significant change going on and we would like to test that by having a vote on the floor," said Blunt, of Missouri. "Or even a vote in committee."
Earlier this month, an Appropriations subcommittee, while working on the Interior Department funding bill, defeated on a party-line vote a Republican proposal to allow oil and natural gas drilling from 50 to 200 miles offshore