WASHINGTON — A bipartisan team of Texans, U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, rounded up an overwhelming majority of House votes on Friday to back a bill repealing the nation's long-standing ban on exporting domestic crude oil to the international market.
But the final House tally — 261 for and 159 against — wouldn't be enough to overcome a threatened presidential veto of the measure. Generally, Democrats opposed the bill and Republicans supported it, with plenty of crossover in both directions.
Despite the winning margin, Barton and Cuellar have no clear path for the repeal to become law. On Wednesday, President Obama's administration issued a veto threat, so two-thirds of the House and the Senate must back the legislation to override the president.
That puts the House magic number at 290, leaving Barton and Cuellar to round up another 29 votes.
"We didn't get the veto override vote, but we got close enough to it that we can be optimistic," Barton said. "Sixty percent of the House voted for this."
Barton said the bill could pick up more steam when it reaches the Senate, where the new Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairwoman, Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has repeatedly said that repealing the export ban is a top priority.
For the last 40 years, American companies have been allowed to export refined petroleum products such as gasoline or diesel fuel, but most crude oil drilled here is not allowed on the international market.
The law dates to the 1970s when global oil prices skyrocketed in reaction to the 1973 Arab oil embargo. President Gerald Ford signed the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act banning crude oil exports with few exceptions, aiming to keep oil at home and protect the nation against price shocks.
A handful of Texas Democrats backed Barton's push: U.S. Reps. Ruben Hinojosa of Edinburg, Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Beto O'Rourke of El Paso, Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Filemon Vela of Brownsville.
"I wish that he wouldn't veto the bill, but we'll have to wait to see what happens," Veasey said of Obama's threat. "Energy security is very important."
Two noteworthy Democrats, however, did not support the repeal.
Just before the vote, U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, announced on the House floor that she would not vote for the bill citing environmental concerns and fear that repeal could hurt refineries. She previously was a co-sponsor of the legislation.
Two main constituencies oppose U.S. crude oil reaching the international markets — environmentalists and refiners. As some of the bill's opponents predicted, a handful of Republicans from the northeast voted against the bill.
But it's a Democrat from the northeast who may pose the most problems for Barton and Cuellar.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee that oversees energy policy, spoke strongly against the bill on the House floor Friday morning.
The discourse between Barton and Pallone was friendly. But Pallone is an adept political operator and could prove nearly as formidable a challenge to repeal as the presidential veto.