WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Sen. Arlen Specter on Tuesday became the first U.S. senator to formally ask President George W. Bush to call Congress back from its August recess to pass legislation that will help lower high oil and gasoline prices.
The Democratic-controlled Congress has been slammed from just about all sides for going on a five-week vacation without clearing a bill that would help solve America’s ongoing energy problems.
“I urge you to call Congress back into session to use the August recess to legislate on energy in an effort to deal with the high cost of oil and gasoline at the pump,” the Pennsylvania senator said in a letter to Bush.
The last time Congress was called into a special session was in July 1948, when Democratic President Harry Truman ordered back the Republican-controlled Congress to pass domestic legislation on expanding social security, public housing and civil rights.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in an interview with Reuters, again blasted the Republicans’ oil drilling proposal. She referred to their speeches on the House floor this week, during the recess, as a fund-raising
Pelosi said Democratic legislation to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, already rejected by Bush, would bring price relief for consumers within 10 days, while expanding offshore oil drilling in protected areas would only knock two cents off the price of a gallon of gas after 10 years.
“It is a hoax on the American people to say that we can only drill offshore,” Pelosi said.
Asked whether she thought the House might be able to pass a compromise energy bill next month, Pelosi, speaking from Philadelphia, responded, “I don’t think we would go down a path like this unless we saw something possible in the Senate that the president would sign.”
A group of 10 Democratic and Republican senators have unveiled a bipartisan energy bill that may become the vehicle to move several energy initiatives through Congress.
Though the current Congress is on vacation, some Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to leave.
A group of Republican lawmakers spoke on the House floor on Monday and Tuesday, with the microphones and television cameras turned off, on the need to pass energy legislation that expands offshore drilling. They urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call members back.
“Right now, we have no energy plan. It’s time for us to not go home and take a rest...this is important to each and every American,” said Republican Rep. John Carter.
Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave told reporters on Monday she did not think the president would call Congress back. “I’m disappointed by that. I think he’s leaving it to Nancy Pelosi,” she said.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said on Tuesday the president has not called for a special session of Congress because Pelosi has made it clear she would not allow a vote on offshore oil drilling in the House.
“We’re not sure that that would be the most effective way right now...what we would rather see are Democratic leaders go back to their districts and hear from the American people on this,” Fratto told FOX News.
Following record gasoline prices, polls show more Americans favor offshore drilling. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama reversed his position and says he would consider backing more offshore drilling if it was part of a bigger energy solution.
Meanwhile, Senate Republican presidential candidate John McCain has urged Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to call the Senate back into session. However, McCain has not directly asked Bush to do so.
Bush is in Asia this week to attend the summer Olympics in Beijing.
Lawmakers will be busy later this month attending their respective political parties’ presidential conventions. Congress is scheduled to return on September 8.
Reporting by Tom Doggett, additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Marguerita Choy