NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - July 31, 2008)
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Mr. CRAIG. Madam President, we may be hours or a day away from adjourning for the August recess. At the same time, many of us have said there is no more important issue for this Senate to be dealing with than the issue of energy and the price of gas at the pump. For the last year, the American consumer has gone through increasing price shocks as they have seen more and more of their family budget left at the service station or gas station every time they fill the family car. First it was $15, then $20, then $25, then $30, $40, $50, and in some instances now and in certain locations $60 to fill the family car. If that family car is also the vehicle in which they commute to their workplace and they have to fill it several times a week, it has become a dramatic hit on the American family in a way that has now clearly registered in polling across our country and in what we are hearing every day in our phone calls coming in from those distressed Americans out there who are paying more for energy than they ever have before.
That is just one side of the energy equation. Our whole world, our whole economy runs on energy. The cost of that energy in that economy has to be felt--whether it is in the heating of the home or the processing, manufacturing, or growing of food. All segments of our economy feed on energy and feed, basically, on gas or hydrocarbons that are reduced into gas and diesel and oil and plastics and the refining of energy. All of them have also become factors for which the average American--and certainly the average Idahoan--is paying now at a higher price than they have ever paid.
In my great open Western State of Idaho, we travel long distances. The majority of our people do not live downtown, don't live in the suburbs. They live out in the countryside. Going to town is a trip that is not unusual to rack up 50, 60, 70, 80 miles. I grew up on a ranch that was 30 miles from the nearest community. It was not unrealistic, when my mother went to town to acquire groceries or do the family shopping, to travel 60 or 70 or 80 miles in one round trip. That still goes on today in many of our Western States. So the cost for that family has gone up dramatically, also, simply by the character of where we live.
Yet, for the last 2 weeks, in an effort to try to deal with this issue on the floor of the Senate by allowing the offering of amendments that would in many ways cause production to begin once again in this country in locations where we know oil exists today but they have been taken off limits for political reasons--in that debate over the last 2 weeks, the leadership, the Democratic Party, the majority leader has stopped us from doing so on at least six different occasions.
Why, I am not sure--why any leadership of the great Senate would stop this Senate from doing what the American consumer and the American voter are asking for is largely beyond me. I could speculate--and I have, on numerous occasions, in speeches on the floor over the last several weeks, as have my colleagues. But one thing is clear: On six occasions, the majority leader, the Democratic leader, has said: No, we will not proceed to offer amendments to allow or to cause this country to become once again a producing nation.
Now we are about ready to try a seventh time. I am told that on the Defense Authorization Act, cloture has been filed. That is a procedure we use here in the Senate ultimately to force a vote on whether we will proceed to go to Defense authorization. We could vote on that today if we all agreed or we could vote on it tomorrow, as the cloture motion ripens--the term we use here in the Senate when all time has run out. I know what our vote is going to be. As important as Defense authorization is, we are going to say no. There is something even more important today to every American than that Defense authorization; that is, the price of energy at the pump which is literally sucking the family budget dry.
What do we do? My guess is we are going to adjourn for the August recess having done nothing. Every Senator here is going to go home. I hope they go home to explain to their voters and to their State why they would not vote for increased production; why they will not allow this great country of ours to get in the business of producing energy once again.
The President has responded. He removed the moratoria he had placed on Outer Continental Shelf drilling. Prices dropped a little as a result of that. Yesterday, the Interior Department initiated a 5-year oil and gas leasing program for the OCS. They are preparing, if we act, to expedite and allow these areas in which we believe production can go on to go on there sooner. We have heard the argument here on the floor that it is 5 or 6 or 7 years away. No, it is not. In many areas, it could be as short as 2 or 3 years. And the anticipation of coming into the market in 2 or 3 years, in nearly everyone's opinion who understands oil markets--they would tell you it would bring the price of that product down now in the market.
The price already is coming down--not because of our actions but because of a beleaguered consumer out there who simply cannot afford the price anymore. That consumer and his or her family are already making decisions to shrink their travel and shrink their gas budgets. They are doing so.
In the last 4 months comparable to the 4 months of a year ago, the American family has driven 40 billion fewer miles. They didn't want to, they didn't want to alter their lifestyle, but they did. The reason they did is they just simply did not have the money to go forward. The price began to drop. Across America today, the gas price in many States has now dropped below $4 a gallon.
You see the marketplace is out there, and what we have said about supply and demand is true in the market even though here in the Senate the action to deny production is to deny that the marketplace exists. What is going on today across America is living proof that market exists.
What can we do? If we were able to act as we have asked our majority leader here in the Senate to allow us to do, we could gain access to what we believe is about 30 billion barrels of known oil reserves in the Outer Continental Shelf. We think there is an additional 85 billion barrels of undiscovered resources out there, simply, if we are allowed to explore and develop the resources we know are there that are off limits today--if.
If I were allowed to offer an amendment, here is the amendment I would offer. I would go to what we call the eastern gulf that is now off limits and I would say: 50 miles out from the shoreline along Florida in the eastern gulf, this would be open for leases. We believe there are over 2 billion barrels of oil out there and trillions of cubic feet of gas. Right across here are the pipelines and the infrastructure we could connect to, which would go into
the refining areas in Louisiana and Texas.
Doesn't that make sense? Even Floridians who once said: No, we do not want any drilling, are now by their latest polling saying: Yes, we do, because we, too, are going broke at the pump. We want an opportunity to do so.
Of course, what Floridians know is that if oil is discovered here, they will share in the money that comes from it, and that can go into their educational programs and their State budgets and potentially reduce the tax burden on the average Floridian, along with bringing the price of gas down at the pumps in Florida.
I have offered that amendment. I filed that amendment at the desk. Yet the majority leader of the Senate has said no, that amendment will not be offered.
Ultimately, it will be offered. Ultimately, someday the voter is going to say: We have had enough of this. We are not going to stand by and let the Senate of the United States block us from the resources that are ours as a nation, that need to be developed, that can bring the price of energy down.
It is a pretty simple equation and, as many of us have said, this is an interim solution. Many of us have called it a bridge to the future. The Energy Policy Act we passed in 2005, and the new Energy Policy Act we passed in 2007, already the Senate of the United States was recognizing that the day of a nation living exclusively on oil as a form of transportation energy was a day that would ultimately end and that we would invest in hybrids and electric-powered cars and new technologies.
I am very proud, in my State of Idaho, that, in part, we have led those kinds of technologies in our national energy laboratory in Idaho Falls. Hydrogen cars and hydrogen initial combustion vehicles and full-sized electric cars have been experimented with and are being developed at that laboratory and in other facilities across the Nation.
But that is not going to be available tomorrow. It takes billions of dollars and 10 or 15 years for a lot of this new technology to come online and be available to the American consumer. So do we sit idly by and allow the family budget to be drained away? Do we sit idly by and buy from foreign nations the billions of barrels of oil we currently buy from them and pay $1.2 billion a day to a foreign nation and drain not only our family budgets dry but our national treasure?
It is a phenomenal dilemma we have put ourselves in. As you note, I used the word ``we'' put ourselves in because it is folks on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives across the Rotunda from us who have put these properties off-limits, who have put Alaska's oil off-limits, all in the name of the environment.
We caused this crisis, and American families now know it. Eighty percent of American families and consumers out there are saying: Congress, fix it. For 3 weeks we have been on the floor trying to do that, and every time we try it, we are denied that opportunity in the raw name of politics.
Well, we are about to go home. I hope in the raw name of politics, America's voters rise and say to their politicians: Go back to Washington and do your work and do it in a way that allows this great Nation of ours to once again become a producing Nation, not just a consuming Nation.
We know the resources are there. Our national geologic survey says they are there. We know they are there because they have been put off-limits in the name of the environment years ago when gas was cheap. But many of us who have worked in this area for a long while said the day would come when there would be a break point and no longer would America be sitting with cheap energy available in an unlimited way. That day is here.
Yet, politically, we are bound up. We cannot move. I guess we will now not move to do what we ought to be doing for the American consumer, acting and allowing these resources to become available so we can develop them in a safe and clean environmental way for the American consumers to use.
This is a challenge for all of us, but it is a challenge we are capable of meeting if we simply surpass the politics of the moment and get on with the business of this great country.
I yield the floor.