August 6th, 2008
02:01 PM ET
10 years ago

Gingrich challenges Democrats on oil drilling


Watch Gingrich push for a vote on oil drilling.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – He led Republicans into a government shutdown in the 1990s and now former House Speaker Newt Gingrich indicates his party is seriously considering another shutdown threat to force a vote on offshore oil drilling in September.

House Republicans brought Gingrich to the Capitol Wednesday, partly to revive media coverage on their fourth day of protest speeches in the chamber. The rest of Congress is gone for August recess, but Republicans have been speaking on the closed-down House floor, calling for a special session to vote on drilling and energy.

While Gingrich did attract more camera crews, he also pointed to what may be the GOP's next strategy: if Democrats refuse to hold a separate vote on oil drilling, Republicans could try to block the votes needed to keep government running past September 30.

"Are (Democrats) really prepared to close the government in order to stop drilling?", Gingrich asked, "Because I think the country will find that to be a suicidal strategy."

The precise maneuvering of a shutdown threat is complicated, but it revolves around the fact that key government spending bills expire when the fiscal year ends on September 30th and Congress must vote next month to keep the government operating.

One of those spending bills, for the Department of the Interior, contains the hot-button provision banning offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. If that bill expires, as it is set to do on September 30th, then so does the drilling ban. Republicans believe a majority of the House opposes the ban and thus the voting on whether to keep government running could also become voting on whether to allow offshore drilling.

The parliamentary possibilities are numerous. But Republican Leader John Boehner's office think the votes are there, on both sides of the Capitol, to support drilling and energy expansion. Boehner Spokesman Kevin Smith confirms there are many options on the table for September, including a shutdown threat.

""If Democrats want to block what a majority of the House and Senate want, they can proceed with a strategy that would in effect shut down the government, " said Smith.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office responded quickly with a statement from spokesperson Nadeam Elshami. "Democrats will not shutdown the government," Elshami wrote, "but it is not surprising Newt Gingrich would raise that threat since he and the Republican Party shutdown the government in the 1990s."

Indeed, Gingrich's political game of chicken with then-President Bill Clinton led to two government shutdowns in late 1995 and early 1996. The move backfired and polls showed more Americans blamed Gingrich. But he defends his decisions at the time.

"We shut the federal government down, for a brief period, in order to get a balanced budget," he told CNN Radio, "that was a deliberate systematic strategy."

Now the strategy seems to be an all-out effort to heap pressure on Pelosi, who opposes offshore oil drilling and has so far decided not to schedule a vote.

Democrats call the floor speeches and photo opportunities a "hoax". House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sent out a statement saying, "Republicans are doing nothing but pushing the failed Johnny-one-note policies of the past."

But Republicans keep adding pressure. After three days of speaking under shadows in the unlit House chamber, the GOP congressmen found themselves facing six television cameras and at least three dozen reporters when Newt Gingrich joined them Wednesday. The equivalent news conference Tuesday morning brought a single camera and approximately ten journalists.

Republican conference chairman Adam Putnam would not say how long he and his fellow conservatives will hold the floor. But there a clear sense of political momentum, as well as a lot of rah-rah, among Republicans rotating in and out of the chamber.

"The energy level is high," Putnam said, "and I think we've got a lot of energy left in us, don't we?" Some 15 Republicans behind him cheered.

The historian Gingrich pushed a broader view. "I think the energy level has shifted between the two parties in the last couple weeks," he said, "and my hunch is there are a lot of Democrats back home who are tap dancing."

Filed under: Newt Gingrich
soundoff (206 Responses)
  1. Rick in Oregon

    Polarized....youre views are not based on anything to do with reality.

    The price of oil has nothing to do with supply and demand. It is being controlled by speculators. The same people that got us into this house debacle we are in. There is a ton of oil already out of the ground that is just sitting there. It simply does NOT affect the price.

    While it is true that the infrastructure for alternative fuels are not in place in America like they have been in Europe for years (Thanks to Ronald Reagan. Remember when he took the solar panels off the whit house), the infrastructure for off shore drilling is not in place.

    Do you REALLY think that these oil companies are American and that they can be "driven out" of America? Does the name BRITISH Pertoleum mean anything to you? These companies are world wide and will not leave any country.

    Also, where do you think the oil that they get from off shore drilling will go? Mostly to China. The Republicans would not allow a bill to go through that said that if they drill in the US, they must sell in the US.

    Get a grip people. This is all political grandstanding. They want you to think that they are trying to help you when it has NOTHING to do with the American people. It has to do with the Oil companies and who they have in their back pocket.

    August 6, 2008 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  2. Moe, NY

    Guess it was just a matter of time before this snake crawled out from under his rock. I guess it is true what they say: There is no cure for stupid.

    August 6, 2008 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  3. Justin in CA

    I like how its a problem now. You Cons are so full of it, I am sure even you can't swallow this one.

    August 6, 2008 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  4. Raoul

    68 million acres of land the oil companies already lease but do not drill on. This is a joke and nothing but a Republican attempt at a last-minute land grab on behalf of the oil companies.

    Someone on this blog said "a vote for Obama is a vote for higher gas prices"...why, because the GOP has done such a great job the last 8 years? You might be poorly informed, or just a fear monger.

    August 6, 2008 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  5. California Gold

    Why didn't Newt drag McCain back to vote before the regularly scheduled vacation? McCain is quickly becoming the Top Gun of Congressional MIA.

    August 6, 2008 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  6. Don't Vote For Hate

    What Gingrich is really saying is: "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!"

    August 6, 2008 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
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