Off In Different Directions

As Congress gets ready to head out on a July Fourth break, the two political parties continue to go in opposite directions on solutions to the recent runup in oil and gasoline prices in the United States.

More hearings on Wednesday did little to bridge the partisan divide on energy here in the Congress, as Democrats focused their public anger on speculation in oil futures markets while Republicans continued to call for legislation that makes more oil and gas supplies available.

"The fact is there are tens of millions of acres in our country, that these people have the permits to drill on," said a defiant House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who sternly brushed off GOP calls for legislation to lift a ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration.

"They hypocrisy of the Republicans and the President of the United States to talk about "drill, drill, drill" when they can "drill, drill, drill," Pelosi fumed at an afternoon news conference.

It was not exactly the news conference that Pelosi wanted to have on the eve of a Congressional recess, as plans to bring as many as four energy bills to the House floor this week floundered.

Democrats decided to hold off on a bill that would have tightened regulations on oil futures trades, which they argue is mainly responsible for the speculation that has driven up prices.

Hearings on that issue though have not delivered anything close to an 'open and shut' case on speculation, as energy regulators dispute the assertion that oil futures markets are rife with wild financial misdeeds.

Democrats though see it much differently.

"Causing this rise in the cost of energy has been unbridled speculation," thundered Rep. John Larsen (D-CT.)

"It has taken on almost a casino atmosphere," Larsen added at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol.

At a U.S. Senate hearing on the other side of the Capitol, Democrats hammered on an Energy Department official, who was reluctant to directly blame speculation for recent price woes.

"I think you are missing the elephant in the room," said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND.)

"Unbelievable excess speculation that you and I and the government owe the American people a remedy for," Dorgan said.

Democrats though couldn't get things in order legislatively in order to have a bill on the floor before the July Fourth break on the issue of speculation.  They hope to do that after their recess.

Instead, the House will vote today on a non-binding resolution that calls on federal regulators to start a probe of trades on oil futures markets.

At the least, it will give Democrats something to hang their hat on when they go home.

For Republicans, it will give them more ammunition to say that Democrats aren't confronting the real issues involved with higher gas prices.

It means this battle will simmer, along with the weather in July and early August.