WASHINGTON, July 24 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans said they had the votes to block on Friday a Democratic bill that seeks to curb excessive speculation in the energy markets.
Democrats want to rein in speculators, whom they blame for soaring crude oil and gasoline costs. Republicans say going after speculators alone is not the answer and more domestic oil production is needed to bring down prices.
Democrats, who control the Senate 51-49, need 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to clear the procedural hurdle erected by Republicans demanding consideration of amendments to the bill that would add language opening offshore areas to oil drilling and allow the development of oil shale fields in the West.
But Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, said on Thursday that Republicans had enough support to stop the bill from going forward.
“The problem we face, as everyone knows, is that the demand for oil is increasing faster than the supply. And the solution, as everyone knows, is to increase supply and lower demand,” McConnell said.
Stewart dismissed talk Republicans were trying to kill energy legislation. He said they simply want to add amendments, such as ones to increase drilling.
“We are not ready to throw up our hands and say no way (to an energy bill),” Stewart said. “We want a serious bill that actually addresses the rising cost of gasoline.”
Stewart said Republicans plan to keep the Senate focused on energy by opposing any motion by Democrats to move to other legislation.
The legislation would require institutional traders to give regulators more details on unregulated over-the-counter transactions, to guard against price manipulation or excessive speculation.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission also would review trading practices of swaps dealers and commodity index funds.
The legislation would not impose margins to buy and sell oil, as the futures industry had feared. But it would limit the number of oil contracts speculators could control.
Meanwhile, Democrats unveiled a proposal to speed up the production of oil and gas on federal lands by shortening the time oil companies could leave leases undrilled and requiring the government to offer leases more frequently on tracts already open to drilling in Alaska and the central and western Gulf of Mexico.
The Democratic plan would also sell some oil from the government’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to increase supplies in the market and eliminate a waiver of federal royalties owed on oil and gas drilled in the very deep waters of the Gulf. (Reporting by Tom Doggett and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
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