Energy politics intersected with Nevada politics in the U.S. House today as the parties debated a bill that aimed to increase offshore oil production.
Unsurprisingly, Nevada’s two House members who are declared candidates for U.S. Senate split on the bill, with Republican Rep. Dean Heller voting for it and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley voting against it.
The debate also sparked a new round of heated rhetoric by surrogates for the Nevada lawmaker/candidates, this one coming just days before Heller is scheduled to depart the House for appointment to the Senate.
The oil drilling bill passed, 266-149, with 33 Democrats joining most all Republicans in voting for it. Passage gave supporters something to point to as evidence they are working to increase energy production at a time when Americans are suffering at the gasoline pump.
"By allowing our nation to develop our own natural resources we can create jobs, lower fuel prices, and increase our country’s energy security," Heller said in a statement.
But while Republicans got their vote, Democrats got a vote that they wanted as well.
Dems called for a procedural vote that would have set aside the GOP bill and substituted a Democratic bill to repeal a domestic manufacturing tax deduction for the largest oil companies.
The Democratic move was defeated, 241-171. All Republicans voted to kill it in order to keep their own bill alive. But Democrats celebrated a tactical victory, claiming the ability now to tie individual GOP members — including Heller — to "Big Oil."
In Nevada, Democrats distributed a press release charging that Heller "voted to protect billions of dollars in taxpayer giveaways for Big Oil companies."
Heller’s spokesman Stewart Bybee decried the charge as "cheap attacks and half truths. Tax increases and political stunts will not bring down high gas prices."
Democratic strategists said Heller’s vote will likely become fodder for continuing attacks. In fact the issue is likely to come up again in the next week or two after the Nevadan moves to the Senate, as Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he intends to force a similar vote.
Berkley did not escape criticism for her vote against the offshore oil bill, which requires the Obama administration to sell more offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, and new ones off the coast of Virginia, and sets deadlines for the auctions.
“Congresswoman Shelley Berkley is quick to grandstand about the $4 a gallon Nevadans are paying at the pump, but when it comes to common-sense legislative solutions she votes against them," said Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Berkley argued the bill would not be effective in bringing down gasoline prices. She voted for an unsuccessful Democratic motion that would have required all oil and gas produced by the leases to be sold exclusively in the United States.
"Where is the proof that these leases are going to mean a family in Las Vegas can go to the pump and fill up and pay less?" Berkley spokesman David Cherry said.
Zach Hudson, communications director for Nevada Democrats, called the GOP rap on Berkley a "desperate attack from Republicans in Washington."