WASHINGTON - US Senate Democrats expect Wall Street lobbyists to try to defeat a bill aimed at curbing excess speculation and manipulation in oil markets.
"A lot of folks are going to come here this week and put a lot of pressure on senators to vote against this legislation," Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat and cosponsor of the proposal, told reporters in Washington yesterday. "Most of them will take a shuttle flight" from New York.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada introduced the measure last week as part of an effort to reduce record prices. Crude oil futures touched a high of $147.27 a barrel on July 11.
Democrats will need support from some Republicans to get the 60 votes needed today to bring the bill up for debate. The measure would require the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to impose limits on speculative trading in oil and natural gas futures markets. It also requires more reporting in energy markets to prevent market manipulation.
"The only way to lower gasoline prices in the short term is to burst the speculative bubble that has grown in the last few years," Mark Cooper, director of research for the Consumer Federation of America, said at a news conference with Dorgan.
The Reid proposal doesn't include expanding drilling either offshore or in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as called for by President Bush.
Senate Republicans have proposed energy legislation that would expand offshore oil drilling and require the futures regulator to gather more information on market participants. They have threatened to amend Reid's speculation measure with new drilling proposals.
"The Republicans seem to have sufficient votes to kill the measure in its tracks, if they don't get some kind of compromise on amendments from Democratic leadership," Christine Tezak and K. Whitney Stanco, analysts at Stanford Group Co. in Washington, wrote in a note yesterday.
Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, the senior Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he will seek to amend the Reid legislation today to expand offshore drilling.
Dorgan said it was a "false choice" to suggest that there had to be drilling in this measure, since it is a "first step" to tackle energy costs.
Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat and chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is working on a more comprehensive energy measure that would include drilling and support for efficiency measures, Dorgan said.
Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Bingaman, said that legislation may get action this week. The ideas in the measures "are still under construction," he said in an e-mail.