Donald Lambro

Kohl seemed unconvinced by this explanation because it did not fit in with his party's belief that oil executives are crooks who charge excessively and draw lavish paychecks. Indeed, the executives were actually asked how much they were paid, as if this had anything to do with production and refinery capacity, inventories and oil exploration.

"Where is the corporate conscience?" Sen. Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, asked the executives at one point in the hearing. Such is the demagoguery that now permeates congressional inquiry.

But Durbin faced some uncomfortable cross-examination that evening when he was challenged by CNN news anchor Campbell Brown who wanted to know what he and the Democrats were doing about rising oil and gas prices. Durbin responded by attacking President Bush, suggesting that the answer lay in a change in administrations, but he did not utter a single plausible solution to the problem.

Brown tried again, reminding him that Democrats said they were going to deal with this issue, and asked, "What are you proposing to do to bring down gas prices?" Again Durbin dodged the question, saying instead that the answer was to elect more Democrats to Congress in November. That ended the interview.

Perhaps the reason Durbin's responses were so evasive has to do the fact that Democrats don't have answers that make any sense. Ethanol is now a big political problem for the Democrats and is seen as one of the chief causes of higher food prices. Fatter farm subsidies, which Democrats stuffed into last week's farm bill, is the other, pushing up the price of grains, milk, bread, beef and poultry. Democrats talked of expanding ethanol subsidies last year, expanding production into other environmentally friendly resources such as witch grass and wood chips. Two things Democrats did not run on last year: boosting oil and natural gas exploration here at home and building more refineries.

"The basic story that has brought oil from $20 to $130 is that world demand is growing robustly when world supply is not," says Jeffrey Rubin, chief economist of CIBC World Markets.

"It all comes down to supply and demand," says oil magnate T. Boone Pickens who knows a thing or two about both.

That's the problem and the solution in a nutshell. But it's not the answer Democrats like Kohl and Durbin want to hear because in an election year, fanatic finger-pointing sells better.

So they continue to point the finger of blame at oil-company executives, commodity traders, and gas-guzzling SUVs, and promote wood chips, witch grasses and windmills as the answer to all our energy needs.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.