The Democrats promised to push for alternative energy tax incentives, finish work on the U.S.-India civilian nuclear trade deal and try to get a conference deal on legislation to expand offshore oil-and-gas drilling before breaking for the year.
Looking further ahead, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered few details about the legislative agenda for the next session of Congress, stressing only that the Democrats will work closely with their GOP colleagues.
"We have so much to work on that I think it would be hard for us to talk about what we would do if we take control of the Senate," Reid told a packed room of reporters. "Whatever we do, we are going to try to do it on a bipartisan basis."
The press conference was held early yesterday, when Senate races in Montana and Virginia were too close to call and headed for possible recounts. Since then, both Montana and Virginia have been called for the Democrats, ostensibly giving the party a one-seat majority in the next session of Congress.
Reid said he told the Republican leadership he would like to get five things done during the lame duck. "It is not the Democratic agenda, but it is an example of how we are going to work with the majority," Reid said.
"I think it's so important that we complete the work we did in the offshore drilling. That's important. That's important for the American people." Reid added. "I think it is also important that we do something on the India nuclear deal. ... India is the largest democracy in the world, and we want to work with them."
Reid has been supportive of expanding offshore drilling, having backed the Senate-passed bill that would open the eastern Gulf of Mexico's Lease Sale 181 area and a tract to its south to new development. It contains a plan to share production royalties with the four Gulf Coast states that have offshore leasing -- Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
"Pushing tax-credit incentives has been Schumer's baby here in Congress for so many years, something that they have taken away from us," said Reid, adding that the Democrats will work toward creating tax incentives for alternative energy production.
Reid also mentioned finding a way to finish fiscal 2007 spending bills and fighting bioterrorism as lame-duck priorities. A number of appropriations bills that fund environmental and energy agencies are not yet completed.
As for the agenda for the 110th Congress, Reid said Democrats are "going to have a program" that they will work on over the next 60 days.
The Senate Democrats intend to hold leadership elections Tuesday, with the Republicans scheduled to vote Wednesday, regardless of whether the outcome in Virginia's race is determined. The House leadership election schedule was less certain at press time.
Landrieu wants OCS handled this year
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) yesterday also called for passage of the Senate offshore drilling plan in the lame duck. She said it should not be held over and wrapped into another energy package in the next Congress, saying it is more appropriate to handle the issue separately. She stressed the need for revenues the bill would provide to help with Gulf Coast rebuilding.
Landrieu -- an aggressive advocate of sharing offshore oil and gas production revenues with states -- called Reid's comments a "very good signal" the measure can be cleared during the lame duck. "It is a good possibility that this can happen," she said.
Asked whether House GOP leaders have indicated they will play along, she said "we are working on that." She added that the much more expansive House-passed offshore drilling measure backed by defeated Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) represents an "overreach." She also said voters had rejected "extremism."
"I hope that Chairman Pombo's loss has sent a signal to the Republican Party to reach for a compromise, and I hope that the president will want this as a legacy," she said during a conference call with reporters yesterday.
A spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said there has been no decision on the issue. Landrieu said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the presumptive next speaker of the House, has indicated to her a willingness to endorse legislation akin to the Senate measure.
Landrieu's office provided a copy of comments Pelosi made several days ago on CNBC in which Pelosi said "some kind of a bill like that might gain support just so long as it wasn't used as a model to do offshore drilling all over the country and in a way that is very close to shore."
A spokesman for Pelosi confirmed she could support passage of the Senate plan in the lame duck, but the San Francisco Democrat does not want to set a precedent for expanding drilling elsewhere. The House bill expands drilling in the gulf and also relaxes leasing bans that cover other coastal areas, while the Senate-passed bill is limited to the gulf.
The revenue sharing plan in the House bill is more generous to coastal states with offshore production than the Senate plan, leading to criticism from the White House of its costs to the federal Treasury.
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