People are angry. Global oil prices have doubled over the past year, sending fuel prices skyrocketing. Diesel fuel, in particular, is outrageously high, putting the squeeze on the farming and trucking industries, and driving the price of nearly everything upward, especially the cost of food. Truckers have even taken to “demonstrating” in the streets of the capitol city.
The elected head of the nation’s government seems unable to do much of anything to alleviate the problem. But appearing as though he’s doing something is better than appearing as though he’s doing nothing, so he schedules a trip to Saudi Arabia for several “high level talks” with oil producers.
Does this sound like a description of the series of events that led up to President Bush’s trip to the Middle East a month ago? You remember that trip, don’t you? It gave us those hideous photos of our current U.S. President holding hands with Saudi King Abdullah, along with the headline “Saudi‘s Rebuff Bush.”
Well, the passage above could very well be used
to describe what was going on here at home back in February, March and April of this year. But it is actually a description of what’s been going on in London the past few weeks, as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced plans last Friday to pay his own special visit to “the King” later this month, on June 22nd.
Same problem, essentially the same description, but a different country. And here’s another difference between the two stories: in the United States, we have the resources to get ourselves out of our dilemma - - at least partially - - in the short-run.
It’s no mystery that the United States is home to its own substantial oil and gas resources. It is also true that oil corporations, themselves, are NOT the villains behind the skyrocketing fuel prices. The problem is, without a doubt, the United States Congress.
Currently, it is a violation of federal law to search for oil in the Pacific Ocean, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Atlantic Ocean, and in Alaska. Similarly, it is against the law to search for oil shale in the continental United States. Congress has the power to change federal laws that restrict such energy exploration and development, but has chosen not to do this.
And if “Congress” is to blame for these harmful laws, that means that there is plenty of blame to go around among Republicans and Democrats alike. Republicans controlled the Congress for nearly twelve of the last thirteen and a half years, and during that time the stupidity on energy policy remained intact.
Yet for the past seventeen months, Democrats have been in control of Congress. And what has been the response from our nation’s legislative body regarding our most recent energy crisis? For one, the Democrats introduced legislation that would raise taxes on oil companies. Acting as if “companies” actually pay taxes (rather than passing along the additional costs to their customers), the Democrats chose to play - - to borrow a term from my friend and mentor Hugh Hewitt - - a game of “Sesame Street economics.”
Were the Democrats’ corporate tax increase to actually become law, it would do nothing to help expand our nation’s energy resources, and would, indeed, drive our energy costs further upward. But never mind the need for real solutions - - if you’re in Congress and you’re a Democrat, its good to look like you’re being “tough” on oil companies.
And on the point of “looking tough,” Congressional Democrats have also conducted several “investigations” and “hearings” as of late, to determine if oil companies have been doing anything illegal or unscrupulous so as to drive-up the prices of their products. One of my favorite moments from the “big oil hearings” was when Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts demanded to know why the Exxon Mobil Corporation was not investing at least 10% of its profits into the development of alternative, “renewable” energy sources. That’s like demanding to know why the cattle ranching industry is not investing in the development of a soy-based meat substitute product - - it was silly and illogical, yet it was an opportunity for Mr. Markey to look and sound tough in the face of big oil.
So while Congressional Democrats continue to try and appear like they‘re “getting tough” on the oil industry, how about if Congressional Republicans really “get tough” on congressional stupidity? Attitudes and tempers at the pump are already starting to get testy, and gasoline is expected to approach five dollars a gallon by the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
There is a huge opportunity to be seized for the Republicans, if they can figure out how to point-out the foolishness and destructiveness of the Democrats’ proposals, and then propose a real solution to the problem, and then make it happen.
But can the Republican Party, at such a time as this, actually rise to the occasion? And what precisely is the message to voters? And who are the spokespersons for this message? Thoughtful answers to these questions could change the outcome of election 2008.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.