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Senate Leader Says OCS Drilling Priority in Lame-Duck Session

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who appears destined to be the next majority leader, said Wednesday one of his priorities during the upcoming lame-duck session is to reach a deal to open up more of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to oil and natural gas drilling.

"I've told the president; I've told the two Republican leaders that I'd like to get...five things done," including offshore drilling legislation, Reid said during a press briefing on Capitol Hill. "I think it's so important that we complete the work we did in the offshore drilling...That's important for the American people."

It's also been reported that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California who's in line to be the next Speaker of the House is open to an offshore drilling deal during the lame-duck session, but a Pelosi spokesman said this was "extremely unlikely" to happen.

"We're hearing from the [House] floor staff that it would be difficult to get this done with everything else on our plate," said spokesman Drew Hammill. And when Pelosi becomes the speaker in January, OCS drilling "is not something" that will be on her immediate agenda, he noted.

At a series of meetings with congressional leaders Thursday, President Bush urged lawmakers to pass legislation to expand oil and gas drilling in the OCS during the lame-duck session.

Congress is expected to return next week for the lame-duck session. At this juncture, it's unclear whether current Republican leaders will have enough clout and will to broker a deal that would reconcile the vastly different House and Senate offshore drilling bills. Key Senate GOP proponents of expanded offshore drilling -- Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico and current Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee -- and House GOP proponents -- Rep. Richard Pombo of California and current Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of Illinois -- are likely to be in weaker negotiating positions following the trouncing by Democats in the mid-term elections.

Frist is expected to retire at the end of the year. Pombo was soundly defeated on Tuesday, and will not be returning for the 110th Congress. And Hastert, although he retained his congressional seat, will not be holding a leadership position next year.

But on the flip side, there are some observers who believe that Republicans will view offshore drilling legislation as sort of their last hurrah and will do everything possible to get it passed during the lame-duck session. Because Thanksgiving comes early this year, the lame-duck session is expected to last only a few days or a week at most.

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