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The Hill: National Gas Policy Fuels Partisan Debate

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Alex Bolton, senior staff writer with The Hill newspaper.

The recent rise in gas prices is fueling talk on Capitol Hill about changes in energy policy. Today two Republican leaders -- House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- blamed high prices on President Obama's energy policies. Democrats are offering their own explanations and suggestions. Alex Bolton -- senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper -- dives into the differences.

What kind of changes are Republicans pushing for?

"Republicans are calling for dramatic expansion of exploration of domestic energy supplies. They want expanded drilling for oil, expanded drilling for gas, and expanded nuclear production. Something else Republicans are talking about, and something they have been talking about for months, is the construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline that would run from Canada and go through the west, ending in Texas. They say this would allow oil production from the Dakotas, for example, to get to the market faster."

Some people say that drilling and even the Keystone pipeline wouldn't have a short-term effect -- how do Republicans respond to that?

Republicans argue that if domestic drilling were dramatically expanded by Congress and the President, that it would have a psychological effect that would lower the prices on the market because speculators would know that there would be a future influx of supply and that would depress the price immediately.

What kind of proposals are the Democrats making?

"Democrats say there is no short-term fix, as the President argued last week. However, they say that one problem is speculation. The real villains here are Wall Street speculators. This argument ties in very well with the general Democratic theme for the election, which is that their party are standing up for the 99 percent against the 1 percent."

However, the question is what they can do about it. Democrats have pushed for investigations of speculation in the past, but not much has come from it. As Dick Durbin said in the Senate this afternoon, you can dust the stories you've written about in the past about this, and not much is likely to change.

What do you expect to come out of this debate?

There's growing support for the President tapping the strategic petroleum reserve. That's something that he did last year when the conflict in Libya disrupted the world oil supply. Dick Durbin said that if rising gas prices imperile the economic recovery, the President should consider tapping the strategic reserve.

Democrats who are up for difficult reelection bids say they are for tapping the strategic reserve, which would put millions of barrels of oil onto the market, if it will have the temporary effect of lowering gas prices.

How big a role will this play in the elections come November?

It's going to be a big issue over the summer, but with the elections not until November, and as winter approaches, the amount of travel goes down and oil goes down, so the question is 'Will this will be as big an issue for Republicans in the winter when they really need it?'

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