Ga. senators navigate oil drilling fight

15 09 2008

 

By BEN EVANS, AP

The last time Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson tried to find middle ground in an emotional policy battle before Congress, they quickly abandoned a bipartisan immigration package after getting pilloried from the right.

Now the Republicans are in the thick of a debate over oil drilling, and they’re again fending off criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh over a compromise that would raise taxes on oil companies while paving the way for new drilling off the nation’s coasts.

The issue could come to a head this week as energy takes center stage on Capitol Hill and both parties maneuver to take credit for addressing $4-a-gallon gas prices.

Chambliss and Isakson are so far standing firm behind their proposal, which started with backing from a so-called “Gang of 10” and now has 20 Senate sponsors. But as the package gains bipartisan support, it also is drawing complaints from Republicans that it undercuts GOP momentum on the year’s most high-profile political issue weeks before the November elections.

Limbaugh has repeatedly ridiculed the proposal on his conservative radio show, saying House Republicans are pressing for much more ambitious drilling while the Senate proposal “basically cuts (them) off at the knees.”

The senators also have taken heat from congressional colleagues, including from fellow Georgia Republicans. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta has said the senators are engaged in “procedural pleasantries” while Rep. Tom Price of Roswell contended their approach “doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Price said it is “foolhardy” to leave vast coastal areas off limits to drilling and said “tax increases on domestic oil production is counterproductive to bringing new American energy to the market.”

Chambliss and Isakson dismiss the criticism, arguing that voters want Congress to set aside differences and agree on something that will make a difference – even if it requires trade-offs.

“Usually if the extremes are raising cain, it means you’re doing something right,” said Chambliss, who spearheaded the compromise along with Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat. “We think if anything is going to get 60 votes, it’s going to be our proposal.”

The plan would allow drilling 50 miles off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, and the Gulf coast of Florida. It would eliminate tax breaks for the oil and gas industry to generate some $30 billion in revenue, with the money used to offset a massive new investment in alternative energy.

Read on here.

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