(Adds background on Republican meetings)
By Timothy Gardner and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she was not confident enough Democrats will support the massive government funding bill, which includes allowing oil exports, to ensure its passage, although she plans to vote for the legislation.
“We have serious unease in our caucus,” Pelosi told reporters, adding that a provision lifting the 40-year-old ban on exporting oil is the top obstacle in gaining enough Democrats’ support.
Democrats also have other concerns about the $1.15 trillion bill to fund the government through September, including what they say is insufficient help for Puerto Rico, which is wrestling with $72 billion in debt and a faltering economy.
House leaders, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, met with groups of Republican lawmakers to encourage them to vote for the bill.
Pelosi reiterated her concerns about potential job losses at oil refineries some Democrats say would result from allowing crude shipments overseas.
Independent refineries complain that allowing crude exports will increase their costs by lifting domestic oil prices to equal global crude prices. Under the bill, they can deduct transportation costs of their fuels and feedstocks.
Pelosi declined to estimate how many House Democrats would vote for the bill. But she asked how many Republicans would vote for it after the party won the oil export “bonanza” in the bill.
Allowing oil exports will send independent refinery jobs overseas, get “more profits for Big Oil at the expense of American workers,” and could push $8 billion in costs to refineries to taxpayers, she said.
Studies by think tanks, universities and government agencies have said lifting the ban could actually lower fuel costs for U.S. drivers by putting more crude on the global market, from which domestic gasoline prices are based.
Pelosi said the environmental benefits in the massive spending bill outweigh any damages that would be caused by extra drilling from an historic repeal of the U.S. crude oil ban.
“What we did in the bill more than 10 times offsets the damage that exports of crude oil does,” Pelosi, who hammered out the bill in secretive talks with other Congressional leaders.
Solar and wind power would get five-year tax breaks in the spending bill, which the House is expected to vote on Friday, and Senate will vote on afterwards. The legislation has other measures to help the environment.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner, Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey, editing by David Alexander and Chizu Nomiyama