Iowa Public Television


Energy Bill To Resurface In Congress

posted on June 4, 2004

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

Lately it seems that every time the government has positive economic news to report, some other aspect of the financial equation offsets it.

The good news this week was a broad upturn in blue-collar sectors of the economy, like manufacturing and construction spending. Those improvements helped spur gains in first quarter worker productivity ... and job growth in May.

The counterbalance to that news this week was provided by skyrocketing energy prices. And though OPEC has agreed to raise its output of oil, analysts say high energy prices are here to stay.

For U.S. policy-makers, there's not a great deal they can do to influence overseas oil production. But Congress, inflamed by widespread consumer complaint over gasoline prices, is pledging to revive long dormant energy legislation.

Energy Bill To Resurface In Congress Gas prices rising to over $2.00 a gallon during the recent Memorial Day weekend was the number one complaint lawmakers heard during their Congressional recess.

Gas station customer: "eight gallons for $20. That's ridiculous, ridiculous."

Prices continue to creep higher this week as oil futures hit a new high of $42.33 a barrel by mid-week.

House Republican leaders, hoping to capitalize on public interest in fuel prices, will bring energy legislation back to the floor next week.

A broad bill that would make the United States at least somewhat less dependent on foreign oil has nearly completed the legislative process... but it has been stalled in conference committee since last fall. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a republican from Tennessee, says one of the major differences between the House and Senate energy bills is the language giving limited liability protection for manufacturers of the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). There is some talk of breaking up the omnibus energy bill into separate pieces of legislation for easier passage.

There also are issues with the fiscal 2005 budget that passed the House. The measure has a discretionary spending ceiling that is $2 (B) billion under what President Bush requested, implying that some domestic programs face either a freeze in spending ... actual reductions ... or across-the-board percentage cuts.

Those options don't set well with Texas Democrat Charlie Stenholm for at least one agency's budget -- the USDA. Stenholm says agriculture gets no credit for the fact that $16 (B) billion less is being spent on farm programs than was budgeted at the time the farm bill was passed. Most of those savings were realized when higher commodity prices reduced counter-cyclical payments.

To date, the Senate lacks the votes to clear a resolution that could allow individual spending bills to be brought to the floor for debate.

Tags: Congress energy policy news