Read all of Scott Martin's posts at Conservatism Today.
The impasse caused by Congressional Democrats' refusal to allow a vote on drilling and a probable upcoming attempt to renew the drilling ban by sticking it in a bill that would fund government for the 2009 fiscal year could result in a shutdown of government programs, according to a letter circulating from Republican Senator Jim DeMint.
Some Republicans say they are prepared to vote against a resolution to fund the federal government for the 2009 fiscal year unless Democrats agree to lift an offshore drilling moratorium. If the budget resolution fails, many agencies and departments would be denied money to operate and would be forced to close.
"We don't want the government shutdown to be an issue, but the fact is the Democrats are so overconfident that they're willing to talk about a ban and they're willing to talk about raising taxes on gasoline, so this is just pretty incredible," said Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican who is circulating a letter encouraging colleagues to demand that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, strike the drilling moratorium from the budget resolution.
"But I think that once Americans realize that this [drilling] ban will expire unless we pass something, I think there is going to be just an outcry to not vote for anything that had a ban in it."
This is a win-win here if the Republicans don't cave. Either we get more drilling or we get less government. I'm fine with either one. Most voters won't see it that way, however, and the last time Republicans were seen as shutting down government services over policy issues with the Clinton administration, the negative press was harmful to the party.
There is one big reason to think it would be different this time around, though. Most Americans are on the Republicans side in this issue, and see increased American oil production as important to both lowering gas prices and increasing our security from foreign oil.
"If the Democrats choose to hold the continuation of government operations as a hostage, then as far as I'm concerned, I can't vote for anything that has a ban in it," Mr. DeMint said. "That would just be a betrayal of everything we're talking about as Republicans. And I think that most Republicans are going to feel that way."
Republicans say the ban needs to be lifted to lower gas prices and to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
"On October 1, the bans on offshore drilling and oil shale recovery will end, enabling us to finally be able to develop more American energy - unless Democrats actively prohibit exploration," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican who also is circulating letter encouraging House Republicans to pressure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to drop the ban.
"I hope that Speaker Pelosi and Democrats in the House and Senate recognize the pain Americans are feeling and will not actively enact legislation to block the development of American energy," he said.
Democratic leaders in both houses of Congress have refused to allow a stand-alone bill on drilling. In protest, Republicans have blocked several Democratic bills in both chambers, saying they will continue to do so unless Democrats agree to a drilling vote.
Democrats control both houses of Congress, but hold only a 51-49 vote advantage in the Senate. A budget resolution may require 60 votes for passage, meaning only 41 opposing votes would be needed to block the measure.
With House Republicans already showing strength on this issue - they are holding court on a mostly empty and camera-less House floor as we speak - the key determinant will likely be the strength of Republican Senators, a historically weak bunch. I'm having nightmares of someone who sees himself as the next John McCain getting together with Senate Democrats to produce a much weaker bill than an outright end of the drilling ban. Let's hope I'm wrong and Roy Blunt is right.
"As far as I'm concerned, on October 1 we should be able to begin the leasing process of drilling and mining in both of those areas of American [energy] supply," House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" show Sunday. "In this environment, where energy is the most important issue and the only thing you're fighting over is whether you allow drilling, we'll have to wait and see. [But] I'd rather be on the side that wanted to go after American energy sources than the side that didn't."