Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- When Democratic leaders shut down Congress last week for the rest of the summer to avoid dealing with record oil and gas prices, they may have committed the biggest political blunder of the 2008 elections.

What they didn't expect was that many Republican House members would not leave town without addressing the hottest national issue in this year's presidential and congressional campaigns.

Instead of quietly acceding to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's stubborn refusal to take up a comprehensive energy bill to deal with punishing $4-a-gallon gas prices, a gang of Republicans refused to follow Democrats home for a five-week vacation. They gathered on the House floor Monday to continue a protest that began spontaneously Friday to denounce Pelosi's action.

Her rigid, iron-fisted decision appears to have boomeranged on her party -- making it appear insensitive to the plight of ordinary Americans struggling under the yoke of budget-crushing gas prices while Democratic lawmakers bask in the luxury of more than a month off, a vacation most workers can only dream about.

Handling the gas-price debate with remarkable political dexterity, the Republicans have shoved the Democrats on the defensive and seized the high ground on the No. 1 economic issue of the year. And they did it by demanding what most Americans want: a vote on a bill to lower gas prices by boosting oil exploration and production.

Meeting Monday in the Capitol by the Will Rogers statue, the American humorist who ridiculed Congress as bumblers and bunglers, Republicans plotted a week of protests on the House floor. They have followed through, blasting the Democrats for skipping town without taking up a pending energy bill.

The Democrats have "shuttered the U.S. House of Representatives for a five-week vacation while ignoring the No. 1 issue weighing down our economy and the budgets of American families -- high gas prices," said Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

And it wasn't just the Pelosi Democrats who found themselves under a barrage of political fire on the issue. Barack Obama was being pounded this week by John McCain for not demanding that his party return to take up an "all of the above" energy bill that would reduce oil prices and lower the cost of gas here at home.

That means encouraging alternative energies like wind, solar, biofuels and geothermal, McCain lectured the freshman senator. But it also means "we need more nuclear power. It means we need clean-coal technology. And that means we need to offshore drill for oil and natural gas. We need to drill here, and we need to drill now," the Arizonan said Monday.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.