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Congress takes five-week vacation without passing energy bill
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 5:24 PM- WASHINGTON -- Congress sets off on summer vacation Friday with Republicans and Democrats fired up over the lack of action on gas prices and blaming each other for not lessening the pain at the pump.

The House and Senate are taking a five-week-long vacation starting Friday afternoon, but before they cast off, members took turns sniping at the opposing party for their inability to pass any legislation affecting oil prices.

Utah's Republican senators, Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, argued several times this week - on the Senate floor, at news conferences, in statements - that Congress needed to move on measures that would open up off-shore drilling, drop a moratorium on oil shale leases and push for renewable energy sources.

Hatch said those opposed to those efforts are really just hurting the poorest Americans.

"When it comes to the War on the Poor, you're either with the poor or against them," Hatch said at a news conference with advocates of opening up coastal waters and an Arctic refuge for drilling, allowing oil shale production and building new refineries.

Democrats argued that the Republican plans wouldn't decrease the price of oil and were only attempts to placate oil companies. Several pointed out Republicans had fought against getting rid of tax breaks for Big Oil at a time when consumers were paying $4 or more a gallon and Exxon Mobile recorded the highest profit this quarter of any U.S. company in history.

The Republicans arguments weren't really about oil production, said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. "This is about Republicans protecting record oil company profits."

In back-and-forth bickering on the Senate floor Thursday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to force Democrats to vote on a measure opening up coastal waters for drilling when gas reached $4.50, $5 or even $7.50 a gallon.

"If $5-gallon gasoline isn't an emergency, I have to ask what is an emergency?" McConnell said.

"It's a phantom solution," countered Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo, noting that such drilling would not affect gas prices in the short term.

Bennett sought to find a mix of more drilling and incentives for renewable resources, saying the nation needs to wean itself off oil but requires more oil sources in the meantime.

"If we can increase our ability to produce energy, we can control the building of the bridge to the long-term future when we are no longer as dependent on fossil fuels as we are now," Bennett said. "If we want to get to renewables, we have to build a bridge to get there."

Nonetheless, as Congress jets out of a hot, humid Washington, members were unable to strike a compromise on energy legislation. The legislative body returns to session after the Republican National Convention in September for a scheduled two weeks before again taking leave again to campaign.

It's unclear yet whether Congress will return to work after that break.

tburr@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">tburr@sltrib.com

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