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By Dennis Hastert. Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is speaker of the House
June 2, 2004

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) traveled the state last week to attack others for rising gas prices. The senator failed to mention, however, that he had a chance to help pass legislation addressing this issue months ago--and he did nothing. Fortunately, Durbin still has time to act.

Working with President Bush, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate passed an energy bill last year that would lessen our nation's dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and ultimately lower the price we all pay at the gas pump. The legislation promoted the use of renewable fuels, such as ethanol, and promised increased gas and oil exploration and production. And it would have meant 150,000 new jobs in Illinois alone.

Unfortunately, when the bill came up for final passage in the Senate, some Democrats were more interested in obstructing Republican accomplishments than in passing an energy bill--and they launched a filibuster to block action on the bill. Senators fell two votes shy of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster and the bill is stalled.

Durbin supported that filibuster. His curious decision was a great disappointment considering what was at stake, particularly for Illinois workers. In fact, Durbin is the only senator from one of the top five ethanol-producing states who did not support the energy bill.

As a result, our nation still does not have a plan for meeting its long-term energy needs--which continue to grow.

Consider that since the U.S. House first passed an energy bill in 2001, the average price of gasoline has soared to more than $2 a gallon from $1.34 ; our dependence on foreign oil has increased by 10 percent; natural gas costs have increased by more than 90 percent; and a massive electricity blackout last summer left millions of Americans in the dark.

We can no longer afford to delay action because of partisan game-playing in the Senate. Congress has an obligation to the American people to address these issues, and get a comprehensive energy bill to President Bush.

Sen. Durbin can help make that happen--and I encourage him to reconsider his stance. From his recent comments, it is clear the senator understands that gas prices are unacceptably high. He should take the next step and do something about it.

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

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