Energy Policy Gridlock

As expected, the U.S. Senate was left in gridlock this week after energy bills from Democrats and Republicans were blocked by the other party, as lawmakers dutifully pointed fingers at each other over high oil and gas prices.

Democrats actually received more votes (52) for their plan, which would have repealed tax breaks for five major oil companies, sending $21 billion over ten years to deficit reduction.

Republicans were only able to muster 42 votes for a House-passed bill that was designed to spur more oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, as five Republicans broke ranks and voted against the GOP plan.

No Democrats voted for the GOP plan, which was opposed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).

Unfortunately, it wasn't really a full debate about energy, as Democratic leaders allowed only procedural votes on the two competing bills, which both needed 60 votes to start debate.

It was also another example of the Congress posturing about energy policy and politics, though some still hope a deal can be reached in coming months.

"If you listen to the debate you might think there was no consensus and no way forward," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

"I disagree with that," as Portman urged both sides to come together to find ways to deal with rising oil and gas prices.

Sounds easy enough, but the politics of these debates makes that somewhat unlikely right now.

So where do we stand right now?

Republicans have passed a series of bills in the House to spur new offshore energy production, which have no chance of going anywhere in the Senate.

Democrats seemingly aren't overly interested in bringing up a major energy bill, so it's not clear if the Senate will revisit this issue.

If not, it would mean that we have witnessed another run up in gas prices - maybe followed by another drop - where Congress engages in all kinds of rhetoric, but little legislative action.

Gridlock on energy is nothing new - just two years ago, Democrats approved a cap and trade bill in the House, but never even brought a companion bill to the floor in the Senate.

Back in the Bush II years, Republicans controlled both the House and Senate for much of that time, but it took almost five years to finally get an energy bill to the President's desk.