On one side of the Capitol today, Senate Democrats are wagging their fingers at oil executives. On the other side, House Republicans are passing a bill to force the sale of offshore drilling leases. In this divided government, both groups are playing to their bases while ticking the other side off (with the exception of drilling state Senate Democrats, who are pissed at their own party).
Upper St. Clair Republican Rep. Tim Murphy is trying to find some middle ground with a proposal he introduced today (artfully lit press conference photo above by the Malloy Blackberry, giving Mike "Best in Show" Henninger a run for his money). Murphy pitched the Infrastructure Jobs and Energy Independence Act as a magic wand to help solve the deficit, clean energy, infrastructure, gas prices, world peace (OK not really).
Murphy's bill would open up new offshore drilling and take the royalty revenues -- estimated to be between $2.2 trillion and $3.7 trillion -- and pump them back into rebuilding the country's infrastructure, investing in clean energy research and development and paying down the debt. The bill was the work of a "Bipartisan Energy Working Group" co-chaired by Murphy, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair, and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif.
Shuster touted offshore royalties as a way to help fund a new transportation bill -- something that's stalled for years amid a fight over revenue, and an increased gas tax is especially anathema now in the days of $4 unleaded.
Murphy proposed a similar bill in the last Congress, but it never made it past a subcommittee hearing. This time around, he likes his chances. Murphy said Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton is supportive of the bill and he expects it to move.
"It’s a very different atmosphere because gas is $4 and approaching $5, the infrastruture is falling apart and we have no money to pay for it, the debt is $14 trillion and we have to pay for it, so all these are coming together, these imperfect storms are raining on us and this is a solution to take care of some of them," he said after the news conference.
Though there are a lot of goodies for Senate Democrats and President Obama to like in the bill, offshore drilling remains a touchy subject a little more than a year after Deepwater Horizon. Republicans have balked at new safety legislation and Shuster, asked after the news conference if he could support a safety bill, all but rejected the idea.
"It's something we'll have a look at," he said. "But I think that we have enough laws on the books now, they just need to be enforced. ... We don't need a whole new regulatory regime."