McCain holds off backing ‘Gang of 10’ energy plan

As reported on The Hill by

Republican Sen. John McCain is not ready to embrace a bipartisan energy plan that could complicate his presidential campaign if Democrats advance the bill weeks before the November elections.

The bill is being drafted by some of his closest allies, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and offers a compromise on the roiling issue of offshore drilling.

Yet Tucker Bounds, a McCain campaign spokesman, said the Arizona senator is waiting to see legislative language before taking a position.

If McCain opposes the bill, it could appear that he is standing in the way of a compromise to soaring gasoline prices.

But if he backs it, McCain could cloud a clear distinction between the two parties on the issue that Republicans believe can swing the elections.

“John McCain would prefer and would continue to urge members of Congress to take his all-of-the-above approach to solving the country’s energy crisis,” which includes repealing the country’s decades-long ban on drilling along the Outer Continental Shelf, Bounds said.

For Democrats, backing the bill could mean infuriating environmental groups that say opening up protected areas to new drilling is a dangerous practice. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has asked his staff to work with aides to the leaders of the “Gang of 10” — Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) — as they draft legislative language.

Modeled after the 2005 Gang of 14 that averted a partisan meltdown over judicial nominees, the Gang of 10 — consisting of five Republican and five Democratic senators — last week announced a broad package of tax credits for renewable energy, a large investment in ramping up the use of cleaner-burning vehicles and a boost in developing coal-to-liquid-fueled plants.

Instead of allowing all coastal states the option to drill, as McCain and most Republicans have advocated, the proposal would allow the state legislatures of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina to decide whether to allow drilling at least 50 miles off of their respective coasts. It also could open additional acreage in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a hot-button issue in the swing state of Florida.

“This is an uphill fight, but this is what I strongly believe needs to be done,” Conrad said in a phone interview.

For weeks, Republicans have used offshore drilling to put Democrats on the defensive, seeking to capitalize on public outrage over $4-a-gallon gasoline. And a group of House Republicans has stayed in Washington for the first week of recess to make speeches in the adjourned chamber about the need for more domestic drilling.

But the bipartisan proposal could offer Democrats a way out.

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the Democratic presidential candidate, immediately issued a statement praising the plan, and pointed to its call to repeal tax breaks for oil companies.

Senior GOP aides say the plan’s inclusion of the repeal of tax breaks is a non-starter, and they say the bill does not go far enough to expand drilling.

While Obama said he is “skeptical” that more drilling will lower gas prices, he told reporters Aug. 2 that he’s “open” to a “genuine bipartisan compromise in which I have to accept some things I like or don’t like.”

Republicans called his comments a flip-flop, but Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a member of the Gang of 10, said in an interview that Obama recognizes the debate “as a give-and-take process.”

After Obama’s comments, Reid sounded optimistic this week on a conference call that the bill could lead to a bipartisan deal in September.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said his boss is still reviewing the plan but has not taken a position.

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One Response

  1. […] & Mini Systems News » News News McCain holds off backing ‘Gang of 10’ energy plan2008-08-17 13:56:17Shelf, Bounds said. … continue to solving the Outer Continental Shelf, Bounds […]

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