President Obama Tuesday accused Republicans, who carried their drive to defund the new nationwide healthcare program into a government shutdown, of being responsible for restricting oil and natural gas production on federal lands, rather than the often-blamed Democrats.
"You know, the Republicans say they're very concerned about drilling. They say Obama's been restricting oil [and gas] production, despite the fact that ...production is at its highest levels it has been in years and is continuing to zoom up. They say, you know, the Democrats are holding back oil production in this country," Obama said in a briefing with reporters.
Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee quickly fired back: "forgive us for thinking it slightly insincere of the president to suddenly claim concern about federal oil and natural gas permitting."
"The shutdown isn't the problem (yet)," the Senate Republican committee members said. "We simply cannot reconcile how a nine-day-and-counting government shutdown compares to a nearly five-year-and-counting government slowdown in granting permission for producers to proceed."
The government shutdown, now in its second week, has halted the Interior Department's processing of onshore oil and gas permitting and slowed the processing of permits for offshore drilling. "So why would the Republicans say to the folks who are interested in drilling for oil [onshore], sorry, we can't let those things be processed...That doesn't make sense," Obama said.
The Republicans, however, focused on the longer term, saying that opening up more federal lands to producers could yield billions of dollars in revenues for the cash-strapped federal government. "In the midst of a shutdown with a federal government that has again reached its debt limit, we would be remiss not to point out that federal production can yield tens of billions of dollars for the federal Treasury in the years ahead...As we work to increase federal energy production, let's not confuse the current short-term stoppage with a much longer term problem."