Campaigns spar over drilling as leadership issue

Monday, August 4, 2008

WASHINGTON — The different paths John McCain and Barack Obama have taken to support expanded offshore drilling for oil demonstrate how each would govern as president, their supporters said Sunday.

McCain surrogates contended on the Sunday news programs that the Arizona Republican's turn toward drilling, which he had once opposed, showed how McCain would respond decisively to a crisis. Obama's supporters argued that his willingness to consider a bipartisan proposal including more drilling showed how the Illinois Democrat would pursue compromise to achieve results.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent and ex-Democrat backing McCain, was skeptical of Obama's support of 10 senators, half of them Republicans and half Democrats, promoting compromise legislation including drilling and other energy-related initiatives.

"John McCain sees the crisis," said Lieberman, who also once opposed more offshore drilling.

"Barack Obama says this weekend, 'maybe,' 'eh,' 'and,' 'if,' 'but.' He did not endorse, he did not come out with a strong decision," Lieberman said on "Meet the Press" on NBC. "I predict to you he'll find reasons not to be for it if this comes to a vote in the Senate."

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., appearing with Lieberman, said Obama remains opposed to drilling but is prepared to "break America's gridlock by honoring a bipartisan effort, if that is the only way to move us toward alternative and renewable fuels and an energy policy that's comprehensive."

Both Obama and McCain opposed expanding oil exploration on American coastlines when they were seeking their parties' nominations for president. As oil prices shot upward and gasoline edged toward $4 a gallon, McCain — with the Republican nomination sewn up — announced that he would support drilling because of spiraling energy costs.

Obama said last week that he remained opposed to additional offshore drilling but would consider it as part of a plan promoting fuel-efficient cars and developing alternate energy sources.

McCain has long touted his reputation as a Republican maverick who crosses party lines to seek compromise even if it annoys fellow party members. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., contrasted McCain's change of heart on drilling with Obama's on public financing for his presidential campaign, which Obama at first favored and then rejected.

"It's OK to change your mind in politics if it benefits your country," said Graham, another former drilling opponent, appearing on "Fox News Sunday." "Now, it's not OK to break your word."

Obama's supporters repeated their argument that new offshore oil exploration would take nearly a decade to produce any oil, thus not affecting gasoline prices today. They also said oil companies should first start drilling in the millions of acres for which they already hold leases.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would not support a vote on a stand-alone bill for allowing increased offshore drilling, calling it an effort to "to mislead the American people as to thinking it's going to reduce the price at the pump."

"What Sen. Obama said is what we want a president to say," Pelosi said on "This Week" on ABC. "Let's look at all of the options. Let's compare them. And let's see what really does increase our supply, protect our environment, save our economy, protect the consumer, instead of a single-shot thing that does none of the above."

Pelosi suggested that she might be open to a vote on a broader energy bill that includes some offshore drilling in areas now off limits.

As far as a vote being scheduled, she said: "Well, maybe it will, as it's part of a larger energy package."

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