Majority Leader Harry Reid is feeling the heat on the offshore drilling issue. He and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingham have crafted a bill that would open nearly a billion new acres off the coast of Alaska for study as well as accelerating Gulf of Mexico leases.
The Democrats are sticking out their chins begging to be wallopped on this issue and Reid wants to defuse the matter by appearing to bargain about drilling. Republicans should leap on this timidity immeditately and counter with a broader, bolder initiative to include the Atlantic shelf as well.
The legislation, drafted by Reid and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), would open nearly a billion new acres off the coast of Alaska to study for drilling. It would also dramatically accelerate oil leases in the western and central Gulf of Mexico.
"I am unalterably opposed to drilling," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who cited a massive oil spill that closed nearly 100 miles of the Mississippi River last week.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) urged Reid to be "very careful about drilling off the coast of Alaska."
Reid could also face resistance from other Democrats who oppose drilling off Alaska's shores.
One thing is for sure; Republican challengers have a solid issue to run on against their Democratic opponents this fall.