Will Democrats Shut Down Government Over Oil Drilling?

Republicans in ANWR

Fresh from a trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over the weekend, House Minority Leader John Boehner promised to “use every option we have” to force votes on energy production, including a showdown over the Sept. 30 expiration of the off-shore drilling ban.

Boehner came out swinging at Democrats this afternoon. “We will use every option we have to force votes in the House,” Boehner said at a press lunch sponsored by The American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform. “Democrats have done everything humanly possible to avoid making their members vote.”

Boehner’s aggressive strategy means Republicans are likely to up the ante when it comes to the Sept. 30 expiration of the federal off-shore drilling ban. Congressional Democrats need to pass a continuing resolution to fund the federal government, and included in it will be an extension of the 27-year-old off-shore drilling ban.

“I do believe the [continuing resolution] is an option that is available to us,” Boehner said. Roll Call ($) reported today that if congressional Republicans are unsuccessful in that effort, President Bush could veto the bill, forcing a government shutdown. The last government shutdown came in the mid-1990s after the GOP took control of Congress. Just as that wounded the newly elected Republican majority, conservatives view this issue as a potential disaster for Democrats.

“The No. 1 is going to be energy. It has been energy and it will continue to be energy,” Boehner told the group of conservative journalists and bloggers. “There is a lot of unanimity on our side. And the Democrats have been blocking it.”

Boehner’s trip over the weekend with 10 Republicans to a renewable energy lab in Colorado and the North Slope of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge kept the focus on energy production, which has energized the GOP base like few other issues this year.

Among those on the trip was freshman Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who told me this morning that Republicans were fully committed to making energy their top priority.

“America does not have a famine of energy resources,” Bachmann said. “We are the Saudi Arabia of oil, the Saudi Arabia of coal and the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. We have practically more of these fuels than any other nation on earth. The only problem is Congress. Congress has made accessing these sources illegal. This is absolute insanity.”

Having seen ANWR with her own eyes this past weekend, Bachmann said there was a stark difference between the pristine wilderness portrayed by liberals and the frozen tundra being considered for drilling. Native Alaskans, Bachmann said, refer to “two ANWRs” — one that won’t be touched and the other where oil exploration will take place.

Technology has helped further reduce the impact on the land. Boehner noted that the footprint needed to produce oil in ANWR today is much smaller than 30 years ago—about 1/6th of the original land mass.

Both Boehner and Bachmann said wildlife was prospering in the areas they visited. Near the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Bachmann observed caribou roaming freely.

She also noted the measures taken by oil companies to protect the land: “There are more oil spills in a Wal-Mart parking lot than you would see in all of the North Slope area. They are hypersensitive about it, partly because Alaska has the tightest regulations in the country for environmental protection.”

In addition to Boehner and Bachmann, other Republicans on the trip included Reps. Gus Bilirakis (Fla.), Mary Fallin (Okla.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Bob Latta (Ohio), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Steve Scalise (La.), and Adrian Smith (Neb.).

More information on the trip is available on the GOP Leader Blog and Bachmann Blog.