The energy debate is close to hitting a tipping point, as both chambers are inching toward a bipartisan breakthrough that might let Democrats steal some of the fire away from the Republican message on oil drilling that dominated the summer break.
On Thursday afternoon, the leaders of a bipartisan Senate energy coalition known as the "Gang of 10" announced that their numbers had grown to 20, with Sens. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) all signing on to a bill that would encourage state-by-state decisions on offshore drilling and authorize billions in conservation and alternative energy.
Everybody, it seems--especially the down-ballot-trodden GOP--wants to be able to spend the electoral home stretch in their states, talking up how great they are at compromising (never mind that the 110th Congress has passed fewer pieces of public legislation than like, anyone):
"America’s growing energy crisis demands immediate action," said Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), in a joint statement. "Our group of 20 is taking an approach that goes beyond the polarizing partisanship that has poisoned Washington. America’s energy security is not a Democratic issue, or a Republican issue. It is an issue that affects all of us.”
Hold the groaning, please. It's not perfect, but there's lots of needed funds for renewable energy development in the bill--which sends the decision to drill offshore back to the states (of which only a few have legislatures that might actually consider and approve it). Barack Obama (that craven flip-flopper) advocated this type of compromise in early August. His exact words:
"My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices. If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage--I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done."
That's the smart play--and Obama should back this talk up instantly by joining onto the legislation and adding whichever job creating initiatives and non-ethanol-related incentives that he can give alternative energy industries. This would be a serious and timely legislative accomplishment (whither S-CHIP?) that also gives Democrats the chance to get off the mat in the slugfest that has been the summer energy debate. At the least, such a move would put a damper on the absurdish line John McCain (who withheld a crucial vote in a July bill providing tax credits for renewable energy) has been trotting out since his party's convention, about the "old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd."
(Photo: Sign spotted in downtown Denver, Colorado, August 26, 2008.)