To drill or not to drill. We know the answer of the Republicans from their "drill, baby, drill" convention. Last weekend, President Bush again called for oil drilling on the outer continental shelf and blamed Democrats for blocking him. "This is their final chance to take action before the November elections," Bush warned. "If members of Congress do not support the American people at the gas pump, then they should not expect the American people to support them at the ballot box."
The actions of the Democrats in this three-week session will tell us whether they will signal the changes that might come in an Obama administration or they will wilt again. During the primaries, the Democrats vilified the plunderous energy policies of the Bush administration, the secretive energy meetings of Vice President Dick Cheney, and the record profits of Big Oil. In June, Barack Obama reacted to Bush's call for drilling by saying, "The politics may have changed but the facts haven't. . . . When I'm president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country. . . . That may not poll well. . . . My job is not to go with the polls. My job is to tell the American people the truth."
But in recent weeks, Obama and other top Democrats have thrown water on the fires of their rhetoric with a sneaky big word: comprehensive.
With 62 to 74 percent of Americans now favoring offshore drilling in recent polls, Obama went to the battleground state of Michigan with a message of change that was not exactly what he has been selling. Despite repeating that "George Bush's own Energy Department has said that if we opened up new areas to drilling today, we wouldn't see a single drop of oil for seven years," Obama went on to tout a possible bipartisan compromise that supposedly mixes investment in renewable sources of energy with a "limited amount of offshore drilling."
Obama said, "I am willing to consider it if it's necessary to actually pass a comprehensive plan . . . particularly since there is so much good in this compromise that would actually reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
Obama appeared to soften his stance even more last week in another battleground state, Pennsylvania. He told an audience (after the usual drilling-won't-get-us-much qualifiers), "science and technology has caught up to the point where we can explore some new areas where we could potentially get more oil reserves."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in 1996 that she ardently supported a permanent moratorium on offshore drilling off her home state of California coast because, "We cannot allow our environmentally sensitive and economically vital coastline to be spoiled." But on NBC's "Meet the Press" two weeks ago, Pelosi said, "We'll put it all on the table, comprehensive, offshore drilling, if that is worth it, but renewable energy resources so that we do not get in this situation again." Told by host Tom Brokaw that her position was a "big change," Pelosi said, "As speaker, I have to put everything on the table. . . . I don't think it's a good alternative, but if they can prove that it is, and they want to pay royalties to the taxpayer, let us use these royalties to invest in renewable energy resources."
Senate majority leader Harry Reid said the call for drilling from Bush and John McCain was a "cynical campaign ploy," but he, too, will accept a "comprehensive" package that allows drilling. All of this is a reminder that for all the Democrats' rhetoric, the hand of Big Oil is moving in the background. McCain has so far taken in $1.4 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas lobby, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That is a lot more than Obama's nearly $400,000. But between Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson, the three crossed the $1 million mark in contributions.
The next three weeks will tell what kind of spine the Democrats have as the Republicans try to drill a hole right through it. If the facts have not changed about drilling, then let the politics of Democrats show it.