Congress accuses oil companies of being successful

With motorists paying a national average of $3.29 a gallon at the pump and global oil prices remaining above $100 a barrel, the oil executives were hard pressed by lawmakers to defend their profits.

Hurrah! Washington has heard the call to battle and is taking up arms to protect us all from price gouging.

“Anyone who is trying to take advantage of this situation while American families are forced into making tough choices over whether to fill up their cars or severely cut back their budgets should be investigated and prosecuted,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert, (R-Ill), and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, (R-Tenn), wrote in a letter to President Bush.

Oh wait, I wrote that two years ago, during the last offensive in the War On Price Gouging. To update the story all you have to do is insert the names Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid in the above. (My favorite quote in today’s stories on the topic: “House Republican leader John Boehner mocked the hearing as a ‘politically motivated, made for TV’ event.”  Yep, it’s good when it’s us but ‘bad when it’s them.)

The only real difference in this year’s version of the hearings is that the oil companies are now being asked to defend the $18 billion in tax breaks they receive.  To which one nonplussed CEO responded, “Dude, you’re the ones that gave them to us.”

The House of Rep has passed a bill that would “phase out” these tax breaks over 10 years. Why it takes a decade to get your face out of the public trough, I have no idea. Not that it matters. The bill has about a good of chance of becoming law as the Cubs do in having a successful centennial season.

While I am all in favor of ending this sort of corporate welfare, Congress’ recurring interest in the profits of oil companies is a pointless PR exercise. It is just like their sudden fascination with baseball and steroids. Instead of accusing these execs of the sin of making “too much” money, maybe we could get them jobs at some of our larger financial institutions.

Excessive profits! Price gouging! Isn’t that another name for capitalism?

Just as no one can define terror, no one has any idea what price gouging is either. This fact is made plain in the GOP-sponsored House bill, which leaves it to the Federal Trade Commission “to develop a definition of price gouging.” You have to love a law that is so specific about the penalty and so vague about the crime.