Advantage House GOP on Energy?

Too often in the time that I have covered Congress as a reporter, I have seen the majority party in both the House and Senate commit the same mistake by trying to prevent votes on certain issues that might play to the advantage of the minority party.

Democrats have done it.  Republicans have done it.  In both the House and Senate.

Now I wonder if I am watching it again in the House of Representatives.

Top Democrats there have decided to put work on next year's budget bills on hold because Republicans want to use those bills to bring up plans related to the current battle over high energy prices.

Yes.  Let me say that again.  Democrats aren't going to move a series of spending bills because Republicans might bring up amendments on energy issues.

What does that tell me?  Usually a move like that means that the leadership is worried that some of those Republican plans might actually prove too tempting for Democratic lawmakers.

In other words, the Democratic Leadership would be on the short end of the stick.

On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer - the number two Democrat - confirmed reports that a delay on budget work was likely.

Hoyer said efforts by Republicans to add energy related provisions to spending bills was the reason for the delay, which he termed, "very unfortunate."

When the Congress has a 9% job approval rating, I'm sure the idea of a lot of news stories saying that Democrats are blocking GOP legislation on energy isn't really the public relations answer to boost your poll numbers.

One issue that would certainly come up is the yearly ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration.  That is always addressed in the Interior Appropriations bill.

But if you don't bring the Interior bill to the House floor, then you can't have a vote on it, eh?

One thing I have learned about this place is that when you start blocking the other side from bringing up amendments, or forcing votes on certain issues, that only serves to rally the minority, in this case the GOP.

If the headline for the next few weeks is "Democrats Block Energy Votes in U.S. House," then expect a lot of heat for Democrats in swing districts, especially since we are just one Hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico away from gas going over $5/gallon.

Republicans have already grabbed onto that mantra, using debate on any bill to demand action on energy issues.

"The only thing standing between the American people and lower prices at the pump is the Democrat controlled Congress," said Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) in what's sure to be a refrain heard again and again in coming days.

Democrats pushed back late on Wednesday with a list of legislative initiatives on energy.

"As gas prices break records nearly every week, Democrats are committed to meeting the challenge head-on," said a release from Hoyer's office.

"Republicans, on the other hand, offer a windfall for the oil companies and drilling plans that will save families just pennies per gallon--years from now. Who's really serious about the energy crisis?"

House Democratic leaders may be in a tough spot, though.  I could see the Senate approving a bill to lift the ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration, creating huge pressure on the House to do the same.

Two years ago we had a similar fight.  Republicans ran the House, but lost a vote in the Appropriations Committee on an amendment that added an increase in the Minimum Wage to a major spending bill.

GOP leaders then prevented the bill from coming to the House floor for a vote, denying Democrats a major election year legislative victory.

The majority lost two years ago.  Let's see what happens this time.  It could be interesting.

And then again, both sides could overreach and commit and Election Year Screwup.