In the week leading up to Memorial Day —the start of the so-called “summer driving season” —Congress took the opportunity to air America’s grievances over high gas prices with executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips. On Wednesday, as oil prices hit the low $130 range, Senate Democrats grilled the five major oil companies about rising prices and record profits. On Thursday, it was the House’s turn.
The latest hearings represent the 45th time in two years that Congress has brought representatives from the oil industry in for testimony on the issue. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont echoed a popular sentiment of late, questioning the disconnect between relatively stable levels of supply, and doubling crude prices:
“I would like to know, and I am sure American families and small businesses would like to know, why prices are so disconnected from what normal supply and demand would indicate.”
Congress supposedly convened the hearings to weigh several proposals for alleviating the effects that rising gas prices are having on the economy, but as with previous hearings on the subject, political theater ended up winning the day. Republicans used the hearings as a platform to once again insist that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be opened to drilling—a move that most analysts expect would lower crude prices by less than one percent. Democrats dragged out enlarged photographs of President Bush holding hands with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and asked each executive how much money they earned last year.
As the nationwide average cost of gallon of gasoline closes in on four dollars, it’s extremely unlikely that any of the proposed legislation designed to make things easier on consumers will pass, and even more unlikely that any measure would significantly bring down prices. Ultimately, American drivers and consumers will have to adapt to higher gas prices just as Europeans adapted to $5 gas years ago. In the meantime, politicians will feel the pressure to make it seem like they have some control over the global markets and international speculation that has caused oil prices to rise so dramatically.
“If you feel a little bit beaten up on, we all feel beaten up on, so just share the pain,” said Rep. Maxine Waters of California. “We get our behinds kicked every day in our districts about what is going on.”