Sunday, April 27, 2008 | 2 a.m.
A partisan contest is taking place in Washington to see who can be blamed for skyrocketing gas prices.
As households strain to pay $3.50 a gallon, the parties in Congress are working as diligently as possible to show it’s not their fault.
Northern Nevada Republican Rep. Dean Heller played a key supporting role in an episode of this show last week on the Hill.
The argument of his party goes like this: Since Democrats took control of Congress in 2007 gas prices have risen from $2.23 a gallon to $3.53. They call it the “Pelosi Premium.”
Republicans spent much of last week calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to unveil the “common sense” plan she promised two years ago to reduce gas prices. Heller offered a resolution demanding her plan within five days.
Democrats countered that under their watch, the president signed into law the first increase in automotive fuel efficiency standards in 30 years. Detroit will be rolling out fewer gas guzzlers.
Pelosi also produced a list of bills she thinks would reduce gas prices by cracking down on price gouging and eliminating tax breaks for the big oil companies, if only Republicans and Bush would come on board.
Democrats note they have been in charge of Congress nearly 16 months. When President Bush took office in 2001 gas cost $1.46 a gallon — one-third of what it does today.
Heller wasn’t around for those earlier battles. He was secretary of state in Nevada before his election to Congress in 2006.
But last week, Heller helped execute a modestly dramatic display of raw politics on the House floor.
During a debate on a small business innovation bill, Heller suggested sending the bill back to committee to include a provision to research lowering gas prices.
Democrats accepted, on one condition. They wanted it done in a way procedurally that would not stall the otherwise popular bill.
Not so fast, said a Republican from Georgia. He asked a question. Would the Democrats also agree to attach the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to the bill?
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was not amused. The wiretapping legislation has been one of the most controversial bills of the year. House Democrats had been holding it back, despite enormous pressure from the Bush administration, because civil libertarians think it does not adequately protect Americans from undue government eavesdropping. Wiretapping would doom the otherwise noncontroversial small business bill.
“I am only going to play the game just so far,” the majority leader said from the floor.
This is where Heller’s supporting role fades, and the stars of the show take over.
Republicans had set up a double-edged strategy: Democrats could either accept Heller’s gas price study, and the wiretapping provision, and quickly get the small business bill back on the floor, or they could take only the gas study but slow-walk the small business bill to obscurity.
Democrats have seen this before. They chose none of the above, and said thanks, but no thanks, to Heller’s gas study and moved on.
Hoyer, the majority leader, said: “Ladies and gentlemen of the House, the American public know this game.
“This is pure politics,” he said. “We know there wants to be a 30-second ad to say somehow we voted against bringing gas prices down. That is patently absurd, and the American people are too smart for that.”
Heller emerged for one last scene. He demanded a recorded vote. That creates the voting record.
The next day, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a memo encouraging all Republican candidates running for election to challenge their opponents to produce their gas-price-cutting strategy after 222 House Democrats voted “against a measure that would have forced Pelosi to reveal her ‘commonsense plan’ to lower gas prices.”
Pelosi’s office countered that the American people want solutions, not rhetoric.
And back in Nevada folks struggled to fill up their tanks for the weekend.