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WHITE HOUSE intensifies effort to sell energy plan

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration is moving to jump-start its energy plan, which is bogged down in Congress and has failed to win widespread public support despite high gasoline prices and Western electricity shortages.

Bush plans to tout conservation and alternative-energy components of his plan on Thursday during a speech and tour of the Energy Department.

Vice President Dick Cheney will conduct TV, radio and newspaper interviews in coming days, focusing on the energy strategy. Mary Matalin, a top Cheney adviser, is also taking the administration message to the airwaves with appearances on talk radio, and House Republicans are booking their own TV interviews.

Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, the Republican National Committee chairman, plans to travel to Arizona and California this week to promote administration efforts on energy.

``We think it's time we went on the offensive to show just how much the Republicans and the president have done to help those feeling the energy crunch,'' said White House spokesman Jim Wilkinson. ``He's got a long-term strategy, but it's up to us to make sure the American people learn more about it.''

Behind the scenes, the White House is quarterbacking a broader bid to sell the plan unveiled May 17, which emphasizes increased domestic oil, natural gas, coal and electricity generation and new measures aimed at boosting conservation and use of solar and wind power. The administration also wants to help lawmakers facing re-election next year show they are taking action on what Bush has termed an energy crisis.

Bush's plan has languished in the Senate since the GOP lost control, and administration officials and Senate Republicans are questioning why the new leader, Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has not moved more quickly for Senate consideration of Bush's plan.

Daschle spokeswoman Anita Dunn said Tuesday that Daschle intends to discuss the timing of energy legislation with Lott after the congressional recess July 2-6.

Republicans still control the House, but leaders there are struggling to sort through a multitude of bills that propose a wide range of approaches.

Last week, Bush administration officials initiated dual sets of brainstorming sessions _ a daily meeting to plot rapid response to Democratic attacks on energy, and a weekly meeting to map out long-range plans for selling the strategy.

At the same time, a Republican group of lawmakers known as the House Energy Action Task Force has been meeting since early June to plan its communications and legislative strategy.

The task force and the White House intersected on Monday, when Wilkinson and about 50 House and Senate staff members met to coordinate their energy approaches. There were disagreements among the Republicans on how to confront the energy issue, but the participants sought unity as they developed a slide show GOP lawmakers can take home during the recess.

The effort is aimed at building support for the Bush plan at a time when the public remains skeptical. A third of those surveyed in a New York Times poll published last week approved of Bush's energy policy, while 55 percent disapproved.

To win over voters, Republican House members will also be carrying to their districts white binders containing copies of the Bush energy plan. A separate section of the binder contains a sample mailer that lawmakers are urged to send to constituents, assuring voters that Republicans are working on an energy plan.

``Talking points'' in the packet help the Republicans articulate concern over energy shortages, explain what caused them and offer a solution that mirrors the Bush approach. A sample opinion column written for lawmakers to send to their local newspapers praises the Bush administration for its vision on the energy challenge.
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