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Press Conference With Rep. Roy Blunt, House Minority Whip - Energy Policy

Press Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Also Present: Rep. John Linder; Rep. Jeff Flake; Rep. Tom Latham; Rep. Randy Neugebauer

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REP. BLUNT: Well, thank you all for joining us again today. We've had 109 members on the floor since the Congress adjourned. And we're going to have more members coming back.

Our members are finding at home that what we're doing here in Washington is appreciated. At least somebody is willing to fight for the number-one issue for their families today. And that's gas prices, soon to be followed by energy prices, as we get to the fall.

Republicans are hearing that. I'm pretty sure Democrats are hearing that. And so you're beginning to hear a different tone, though I don't have any reason to believe that the different tone has any different real commitment behind it. We need a commitment to solve this problem. We know how to solve this problem. We know the country is ready to have this problem solved.

Certainly we believe that the Senate would respond differently than they did in the past to the bills we sent over that were repeatedly rejected by the Senate. And we're paying a price today, for looking at America's natural resources and seeing environmental hazard rather than economic opportunity.

We can have plenty of votes on taxes. The same members of Congress, the same speaker of the House that doesn't want to drill for oil or natural gas doesn't mind drilling through your wallet, if you're an American family. And families are interested in the fight that's going on, on the floor here today.

John Linder has been on the floor. He's a great leader in this effort. And John, do you have any idea how many books the speaker may have sold on her book tour, where she is today? Go ahead.


REP. LINDER: (Off mike) -- after two weeks, about 5,700 books. And my guess is, the Republicans have spoken to more people on the floor of the House than that, in the last two or three weeks.

(Cross talk.)

We're not asking for a whole lot here. A vote: That's what we do in that building, right in that room right over there. We vote. Ms. Pelosi was asked why she wouldn't allow a vote on drilling. And she said she can't allow a vote on drilling because she -- it's her job to save the planet.

A wise man once said, those who want to save the planet ought to start with a small garden. That's our garden. That's where we plant ideas and weed ideas and prune ideas and ultimately harvest them. That's all we want.

We represent 49 percent of the American people. And our people and her people want us to vote.

(To hear more ?), Jeff Flake from Arizona.

REP. FLAKE: You know, Congress really only has one real responsibility, and that's to fund the federal government. We have the power of the purse. And we authorize, we appropriate and we have oversight. This year we've done exactly one appropriation bill on the floor, just one out of 12. And that is because the Democratic majority is afraid to bring anything to the floor that can act as a vehicle to have a real vote on energy production. And that really is a shame.

I've been critical in the past when I've felt that our party was in the wrong on process on the floor, but nothing, nothing holds a candle to what has gone on over the past several months here. To basically not bring anything of substance to the floor to avoid having a vote on energy production is simply unconscionable. This is what we do here. We vote. It's what we should be doing. Yet here we are in recess without having a real vote on energy production, without going through the process of the appropriation bills simply because the Democratic majority is afraid to bring a vote to the floor.

And so that's why I'm glad to stand here with my colleagues here and demand that we have a vote, to do what we're supposed to do in Congress, and that's to vote.

And with that, Tom Latham is here from Iowa.

REP. LATHAM: Thank you very much.

I've been back in my district this past two weeks doing town meetings, talking to my constituents. And it is all energy all the time. That is the single most important issue in their lives today, is the high cost of energy and the effect that it's having on their family budgets. We talk a lot about budgets around here, but the most important budget there is is in that family. And the young people with children, trying to go on vacation, trying to plan for school, trying to buy clothes, it is absorbing so much of that amount of their income that it's having a devastating effect.

And also, when you look at a state like Iowa, so abundant with agriculture, 60 percent of the cost in agriculture today has directly to do with the high cost of energy. Whether it be the diesel that you run in the tractor, whether it be making fertilizer, any of those things, it is devastating. The cost of production has gone up. And that's why we're seeing the cost of the food at the store, everything else, go up. It's all directed back to energy.

And the idea that we cannot even have a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, the people's house, to address this issue is just simply wrong. And we should be back here tomorrow voting on this bill.

I want to introduce Randy Neugebauer from Texas.

REP. NEUGEBAUER: Well, thank you very much. I think my colleagues have pretty much summed up this issue.

A lot of people wonder exactly, well, what can we do?

Well, we've laid out a very comprehensive plan. It includes everything. In fact, when I'm back in the district, I've said our plan for energy is yes -- yes, let's look at renewables. Yes, let's look at more coal. Yes, let's look at nuclear. Yes, let's look at building some new refineries in America. Yes, let's start drilling on American resources.

We are exporting $2 billion a day, $700 billion a year, nearly a trillion dollars. This is going to be one of the largest transfers of wealth in the history of this country. Just think of what we could do with $2 billion a day in developing jobs for American families, and while at the same time making America less dependent on foreign oil.

So what we're asking for is for this leader, this speaker, to bring a vote to the floor, so we can vote for the American people, and not to send $170 million a day to Hugo Chavez, who, by the way, was shopping in the Soviet Union -- Russia a few weeks ago, and what was he buying? Weapons. But what Hugo Chavez has said is, he doesn't have to attack America; all we have to do is control America with our oil. I don't think the American people want to be controlled by other governments around the world, particularly ones that aren't all that fond of our form of government, by people that would hold American families hostage with oil.

And so we want the speaker to come back. Let's get down to doing business for the American people.

And now I'm going to introduce my good friend Ms. Foxx.

REP. VIRGINIA FOXX (R-NC): Thank you very much.

Again, as Randy said, there's been a lot of good things said here today, but I think what we have to remember, those of -- we've been home. We've talked to our colleagues. We've talked to our constituents. I was in a chamber of commerce meeting in Winston-Salem yesterday, and they asked the big question that people ask us everywhere we go: Why are they opposed to increasing American energy? The people you see here and our other colleagues who have been on the floor are pro-American energy. The Democrats seem to be anti-American energy. Why are they anti-American energy, and why don't they want us to increase the supply of American energy? When the folks in the chamber of commerce asked me that question, I said I can't answer that question. You have to ask the Democrats that.

I've also said that there's been talk about Democrat leadership. In my mind, it is not leadership when you don't respond to the people of this country. And the people of this country want something done about high gas prices. They are the people in charge, but they are not exhibiting leadership, and we want leadership.

I'm going to turn it over now to my colleague from Georgia, Mr. Gingrey.

REP. PHIL GINGREY (R-GA): Thank you, Virginia.

You know that what we're here to talk about -- and of course over 110 Republican members during these past two weeks have been back and on the floor of the House talking about this and basically saying we have no business being on a five-week recess, a vacation, if you will, when the work of the people has not been done.

If I could use a little education analogy, clearly you remember in school, you didn't get to go to recess until you had done your homework. And we, clearly, have not done our homework. And the only person that is capable and has the authority to bring us back is the speaker of the House of Representatives, the gentlewoman from San Francisco, Ms. Pelosi.

So this is what it's all about. We're just saying, let's bring everybody back -- not just the Republicans, but Democrats as well -- and let's have a vote. And it's not "Johnny one note." It's not just talking about drilling, as important as that is in regard to supply and demand and domestic independence. But we have a comprehensive bill that was introduced by our leader, John Boehner from Ohio, and signed by all of us and our leadership, that covers a whole list of things, a very -- well, All of the Above Energy Act is what it's called, including conservation.

You know, in the school system -- I'll go back to that analogy -- there's something under No Child Left Behind that says if you're not doing your job, you're not making adequate yearly progress. And if you do that two years in a row, you go on the "needs improvement" list. And I'm going to say right now that the so-called leadership, or rather, as Virginia says, "those people in charge," need improvement. And they're not doing their job. And the next hammer that falls is you replace the whole bunch of them with new leadership.

And Madame Speaker, if you don't get us back up here and do your job, know your power, then we -- I think the American people are going to replace this leadership with a new crowd, and hopefully it'll be a Republican crowd.

Thank you so much.

Oh, and let me introduce -- (laughter) -- we get so anxious to say what we want to say. My colleague from Ohio has been a great member, if any of you had the opportunity to hear her speak this morning, very passionately about this issue and very knowledgeably. I'm honored to introduce the gentlewoman from Ohio Jean Schmidt.

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT (R-OH): Thank you. I'm going to be brief.

The American public rightfully is disgusted with many members in Congress. We've been called the do-nothing Congress because, quite frankly, we've done very little this year. And then they see us walk off the job while they can't afford to take a vacation.

The American people are hurting. It's the price at the tank, it's the price at the grocery store, it's the price when they go to get clothing for their kids for school that's causing them to hurt.

They're asking us to do what they sent us here to do and that's to vote on an energy bill that will help them put the money back in their wallets instead of giving it to foreign wallets.

That's why we are here. The lights may be off, but the lights in our hearts are still on. And I am so proud to be part of this group of colleagues that understand that it is you who sent us here. You are our employers and you want us to do our job before we get to go home.

Thank you.

Oh, and I would like to now introduce my good friend and new father of twins from Arizona, Trent Franks.

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R-AZ): Thank you.

Well, thank you. You know, I think that the economic implications of this issue have been very well stated here already. And I'd just like to bring two perspectives.

One, as a former oil and gas producer myself, I can suggest to you that if you can get the bureaucratic red tape out of the way, companies can move in and drill very quickly and turn this process around very quickly. Secondarily, the small companies are the ones that usually find the new reserves in this country, and then the big companies come and develop it. The protocol and the regulatory scheme here has made it almost impossible for small companies to really be effective at finding new reserves in this country.

Then I'd also like to talk about the implications that go beyond the economics. Every day, we have terrorist enemies doing everything they can to plot damage and danger to this country. Iran is enriching uranium every day. And I would suggest to you that if we didn't buy so much foreign oil, some of which finds its way into terrorist coffers, terrorists wouldn't have enough money to buy a box of sparklers to hurt this country.

And it is very important that we do what we can to become energy self-sufficient so that we don't fund those enemies that are willing to kill their children in order to kill ours. And if we don't do something pretty soon, it may come to a day when high gas prices will be the least of our problems.

Thank you.

REP. BLUNT: You all have any questions?


Q My question is for Mr. Flake. You had said that there had been complaints about how votes were taken in the past, but that what you've seen this year has been worse than anything. Can you just talk about some of the comparisons that people are making? For example, from '96 to '06, Democrats repeatedly asked for a vote on the minimum wage and they could not get it until it was attached to the estate tax. How is this situation different? I mean, isn't this sort of what leadership does?

REP. FLAKE: Let me just say, I've been critical of my own leadership when we were in the majority, for example, on the vote held open. And we took a beating in the election because of things like that, in my view. But that doesn't hold a candle to holding all appropriation bills, all but one so far this year, off the floor of the House. That's our responsibility --

REP. : (Off mike) -- in committee --

REP. FLAKE: -- our congressional responsibility is to authorize and then appropriate and then conduct oversight. And we've simply been neglecting that.

And so the -- I'm saying that whatever was done in the past -- and I've been critical of what's been done in the past -- it doesn't hold a candle to this.

The abuse of the process here this year at, I mean, keeping amendments off the floor, closed rules, simply not bringing legislation to the floor has surpassed anything I've seen.

REP. LINDER: I spent 12 years on the Rules Committee in the majority. And it was a standard procedure that on every issue that came before the floor of the House, the Democrats were offered a minority substitute, with an hour debate, to put their ideas all in one bill, on their side, and see if they could attract votes from Republicans for it. We have not seen one yet, since Ms. Pelosi has been speaker.

Q On the Republican energy bill, you guys talk about it like it's the all-of-the-above bill. It's comprehensive and has all these provisions in it. Why are Republicans holding this bill hostage to the single issue of drilling, when there's all these other provisions in it that could advance?

REP. BLUNT: Well, there are a number of bills. We've actually tried to get discharge petitions on many single-shot pieces of legislation. And you know that no Democrats have joined us on a single one of those, even the bills where the principal sponsor was Democrats.

You know, we're prepared. We have a strategy that's across the board on energy. We do think the last bill we filed is the best package so far. But that's not -- that's by no stretch of anybody's imagination the only thing we've been trying to do, to get legislation to the floor.

And you know, this idea also that we keep hearing -- Virginia reminded me of, I thought, a very good point, that the Democrats, from Democrats in the Senate to Nancy Pelosi, aren't anti-energy as much as they're anti-American energy.

You hear them saying things like, if we could get a million more barrels a day from Saudi Arabia. So apparently it's okay to go -- apparently that part of the planet doesn't affect the rest of the planet.

They are on the wrong path. The American people know they're on the wrong path. And whatever it is, whether it's coal-to-liquids, deepwater drilling, you know, we had half-a-dozen that were single- shot sort of propositions that we tried to get any Democrats to join us on.

They're not there. They won't bring those bills to the floor. Certainly when you have a crisis like this, though, you need to really move forward in a way that secures the country for the future at all fronts.

And we need to be looking about how we invest in the future, how we find the next way to power this economy, how we better use our own resources while we're getting there. That's what our comprehensive bill does. But we're for lots of different things that, we think, would help solve this problem.

Q Would you be willing to support what's being talked about as a Democratic bill being put together, which would include some of the provisions that have passed?

(Cross talk.)

REP. BLUNT: You know, I haven't seen anything that even -- I haven't seen anything that resembles a bill. When they have a bill, I'm glad to talk about a bill.

I'm not glad to talk about a bunch of, oh, we're clearly in trouble on drilling. So the speaker tells her members at home, say you're for drilling, and say I won't let the bill come to the floor.

And after about three weeks of this, the speaker says we'll probably let a drilling bill come to the floor, whatever that means. We'd like a -- we should have had this debate six months ago. We should have had this debate in the last Congress; but certainly after the American people changed their view of these issues and got to where Republicans had been on these issues for a decade, these bills should have had a chance to go to the Senate.

REP. FOXX: Well, one other thing. (Off mike.) The Democrats got elected somewhat on the basis of saying they had an energy plan to bring down the price of gasoline in 2006. We've asked, day after day after day after day, where is their plan? Why aren't they being held accountable to bring forth their plan? We've seen no comprehensive plan from them. And they should be held accountable to bring that forth.

We've done it. They have not done that. And they promised it in '06. That was part of their getting back the majority. And the American people should hold them accountable for that.

REP. BLUNT: Thank you all.

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