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Congressional Democrats, Republicans Argue Over Economy, Energy

Democrats and Republicans argued Tuesday over the economy and ways to deal with U.S. energy needs, as Americans watched volatile national and global financial markets. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill that financial troubles mixed with domestic politics as Democratic leaders blamed Republicans for U.S. energy and economic problems.

A few hours before trading on Wall Street ended for the day, with the Dow Jones average up a bit after Monday's sharp 500 plus point decline, the House of Representatives held its long-awaited debate on controversial Democratic energy legislation that Republicans have fiercely opposed for two months.

Including a concession by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for limited expansion of offshore oil drilling, the measure provoked heated exchanges over provisions to end tax subsidies for large oil companies, and various alternative energy and conservation-directed tax incentives.

Democrats said the measure would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and move Americans toward investing in and using alternative fuels, and encourage more energy efficiency.

Pelosi described the bill as a bipartisan compromise, contrasting it with what she calls Republican's "drill-only" strategy.

"The choice on the floor today is the status quo, which is what is preferred by big oil - the big oil status quo - or a change for the future to take our country in a new direction," said Nancy Pelosi. "Republicans must set aside their 'drill only' mentality and embrace the provisions of this legislation."

Pelosi and the Democratic leadership reversed their opposition to opening new areas for drilling. The bill would enable individual states to permit drilling 50 to 100 miles off their shores, while the federal government could allow drilling between 100 and 200 miles offshore.

Republicans said Democrats were still locking off vast areas from drilling, and complained that the majority denied sufficient time to review the measure.

Indiana's Mike Pence was among Republicans staging protests throughout the day to drive home their view that high energy prices call for more drilling.

"They say yes to drilling but not in Alaska, not in the Eastern Gulf [of Mexico] and not within 50 miles of our country," said Mike Pence.

Congressional leaders also focused on the U.S. financial crisis, as House Speaker Pelosi conferred with U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd announced plans to bring Paulson and other officials to Capitol Hill.

"We will continue to examine these extraordinary events that are going to affect both taxpayers and markets for a long time to come," said Christopher Dodd.

The financial crisis and energy issues continue to dominate the U.S. presidential campaigns.

On Tuesday, Republican John McCain attributed economic problems to greed in the financial world, asserting he would lead a wave of reform, while Democrat Barack Obama ridiculed McCain's suggestion that a special commission be appointed to deal with the U.S. economic situation.

MCCAIN: "I promise you that on my watch, we are never going to let these kinds of abuses go uncorrected or unpunished."

OBAMA: "You pass the buck to a commission to study the problem. Here's the thing: this [economic crisis] isn't 9/11 [referring to efforts to determine the causes of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States]. We know how we got into this mess. What we need now is leadership that gets us out."

Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing a second economic stimulus package, which they hope can pass the House and Senate before Congress is scheduled to adjourn at the end of the month.

House Speaker Pelosi says she doesn't see why Republicans would oppose this measure, adding that if the House and Senate do not approve it, key provisions could be included in a continuing budget resolution.