In the days leading up to the Fourth of July weekend, when millions of Americans travel by car, Republicans sought to blame President Biden and congressional Democrats for high gas prices. Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, in the midst of a tough reelection fight, blamed $5-a-gallon gas on “the elite Democrats that support President Biden’s environmental policies.” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Biden of “waging a holy war against American fossil fuels.” And Utah Representative Chris Stewart claimed that “President Biden’s energy policy is one of the greatest self-inflicted wounds in our nation’s history.”
Partisan finger-pointing is a common tactic in midterm election years. But this particular blame-shifting also allows Republicans to deflect scrutiny from the real culprits: fossil fuel companies that have been a major source of support for GOP politicians, who have embraced calls to sacrifice even the most pristine spaces to Big Oil exploitation.
Once the political party that used antitrust laws to break up petroleum conglomerates, the GOP is now the party of Big Oil profiteering. As such, Republicans have become the chief defenders of price gouging—and, by extension, pain at the pump.
Biden, while he may be rightly criticized for not acting aggressively enough as gas prices soared, has begun to focus appropriate attention on profiteering issues. He met with oil company executives in late June to pressure them to increase production and lower prices. And members of Congress have been discussing whether to address this summer’s spike in transportation costs by instituting a three-month gas tax holiday, as Biden suggested. But the gas-tax gambit is a temporary fix that won’t address the abuses of energy giants that are posting record profits while jacking up prices. A measure that could have gotten to the heart of the matter, the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, passed the House last month by a 217-207 vote. But now it is stalled in the Senate.
One of the bill’s key sponsors, California Democrat Katie Porter, chair of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on oversight, explained that the bill targeted Big Oil companies in order to end price gouging and “give families relief.”
“Oil companies are not struggling—they continue to announce record profits and tens of billions dollars’ worth of stock buybacks—but families are,” said Porter, who asserted that “Big Oil is price gouging families because they can. Enough is enough.”
Democrats agreed when the House took up the measure in May. All the “yes” votes came from Porter’s party, which showed remarkable unity on what was once a divisive issue for Democrats.
Yet not a single Republican backed the intervention, which gives the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration prohibiting increases in gasoline and home energy fuel prices that are exploitative. In fact, House Republican leaders actively mobilized against the proposal, with House Republican whip Steve Scalise dismissing the bill as “an attempt by the Majority to distract and shift blame from the administration’s self-inflicted energy and inflation crisis and blame energy producers, despite no evidence of price gouging.”
Scalise was lying, of course. There is ample evidence of price gouging, including a March report from the Dallas Federal Reserve, which found that 59 percent of oil company executives identified “investor pressure to maintain capital discipline” as the chief explanation for why US-based oil companies aren’t increasing production in order to relieve shortages and reduce gas prices for Americans. Only 6 percent of the executives blamed government regulations for their failure to act, and only 11 percent blamed environmental, social, and governance issues. Fifteen percent cited other factors, such as international turbulence.
“Investor pressure to maintain capital discipline” is a nice way of referring to putting profits ahead of the public good. And that’s precisely what the oil companies are doing. “Big Oil executives are bragging to shareholders about price gouging families at the pump,” said Porter. “They’re purposely keeping supply low to earn record-high profits, squeezing families—and our entire economy—in the process.”
But Congress could clear the way for expanded investigations by the Federal Trade Commission and aggressive executive action by the president. Unfortunately, the Senate does not have the votes to get it done. As long as the filibuster remains, it will take 60 votes to pass the Senate version of the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, which is supported by majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the overwhelming majority of his caucus.
It’s Republicans who are blocking action to lower gas prices. Their inaction removes any doubt that the Grand Old Party has, indeed, become the Grand Oil Party.