Democrats Boxed-in on Drilling

Roll Call points out that the statutory ban on coastal oil drilling expires on September 30, and that Republicans are expecting Democrats to use a parliamentary maneuver to prevent an up-or-down vote on the ban. But even if Pelosi and Reid succeed in passing an extension of the moratorium without giving Republicans a chance to defeat it, the President still has to sign the bill. That could lead to a high-profile fight, potentially including a presidential veto and a government shutdown:

Some conservatives and drilling advocates want President Bush to threaten to veto any CR [continuing resolution] that extends the offshore drilling ban, which could spark a government shutdown.

“If [Bush] picks a fight and conservatives pick a fight, Democrats will have to explain why they want to shut down the government because they are so dedicated to keeping gas prices high, keeping oil in the ground and keeping us addicted to foreign oil,” said Ed Frank, vice president of public affairs at the conservative group Americans for Prosperity…

“Will the Democrat Congress actively extend the ban on deep sea drilling or will they begin supporting policies that increase American energy supply?” RSC spokesman Brad Dayspring asked.

The last government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 were generally seen as disastrous for the then-new Republican majority. But on this issue, Frank said, the public is clearly on Republicans’ side.

“Seventy-five percent of the American people agree with us on this,” he said, adding that it will come down to whether Republicans have the gumption to make a stand. “If they don’t have the courage to force a showdown on this, I don’t know when they will.”

So sometime before September 30, Congressional Democrats will have to decide whether to trim their sails on offshore drilling, or face a showdown with a White House on an issue where polling shows the public firmly against them. But will the President and Republicans in Congress really risk being blamed for a shutdown over offshore drilling?

House Republican Leader John Boehner addressed the ban in a session yesterday at the offices of Americans for Tax Reform. He discussed the American Energy Tour he recently led (more at his blog) and with regard to the offshore drilling ban, he promised that Republicans will take ‘every opportunity’ to promote more oil supply from here in the U.S.

Look for Democrats to work harder to convince Americans that they support new drilling from current leases before they decide whether they need to compromise on the current ban.