Bickering slows energy relief bill

Congress unlikely to quickly pass legislation to curb oil speculation, and to permit more drilling - as lawmakers blame each other.

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Offshore drilling is controversial with Republicans mostly in favor, Democrats mostly opposed.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress appears unlikely to pass energy legislation before leaving this week for its August recess -- even though polls show Americans are worrying more about record high gas prices than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The two parties blame each other.

"They don't want to do anything on energy except talk about it," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, blaming the gridlock on Republicans.

Parliamentary gamesmanship

"The Democratic leadership is playing parliamentary games that are blocking a full and open process," responded Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chamber's third-ranking Republican.

At issue is a stalemate over whether to give oil companies permission to drill in new areas, particularly offshore.

Most Republicans, including presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, favor more offshore drilling.

Most Democrats, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, oppose more offshore drilling.

That disagreement has deadlocked the Senate on energy legislation. It also has turned debate on a bill that would curb oil speculation into a parliamentary fistfight.

Domestic drilling

Republicans insist they should be allowed to offer two dozen or more amendments, including ones that permit domestic drilling.

They point to polls showing a majority of Americans favor expanded drilling. They also accuse Reid of blocking the amendments to protect fellow Democrats from having to cast politically difficult votes.

Democrats deny that and accuse Republicans of being unreasonable -- one Democrat said Republicans are trying to "amend the bill to death."

Democrats also think Republicans want to kill the bill so GOP candidates can campaign against a "do-nothing Congress" led by Democrats. They say they have told Republicans they would allow votes on a handful of GOP amendments. Republicans deny having formally received such an offer.

Heated exchanges in Senate

The accusations have grown so harsh that Reid and McConnell had an heated exchange on the Senate floor. Reid accused McConnell of saying "something that is not true" -- that Democrats had never offered votes on offshore drilling and other GOP priorities -- and McConnell responded by saying the two leaders have a "central disagreement" over whether anything was offered.

Stymied, Republicans say they will block the Senate from acting on any legislation until the issue is resolved. On Saturday, most Republicans voted against taking up a bill to help low-income households pay energy bills.

A bipartisan group in the Senate is also expected to release its compromise legislation by the end of the week, according to Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat and member of the group.

Energy legislation has also stalled in the House.

Breaking the deadlock

A bipartisan "energy working group" of 28 lawmakers hopes to break the impasse this week by proposing a compromise that couples new offshore drilling with conservation and renewable energy programs. Yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California says she won't allow a vote on a bill that includes new offshore oil drilling.

Also this week, the House is expected to vote on its version of an anti-speculation bill. Republican leaders have not decided if they will support the bill. To top of page

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