Passing Gas in Congress

It always makes one warm and fuzzy inside when Republican officials grasp the realization that people have financial difficulties because they can't pay high prices.

Senator Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico) expressed it well on April 26. He was "troubled to hear stories of families who are really having a difficult time, having to cut essential items from their budgets to fill their cars."

Imagine how troubled the senator would be if he ever discovered that many of those families were having a difficult time period, even without high gas prices.

In the House, Jack Kingston (R-Georgia) was equally heartbroken. "Nobody has any sympathy for oil companies on Capitol Hill right now," he insists. "You talk to someone driving to work in an F-150 pickup and paying $75 to fill up his tank, and everybody's on his side."

An admirable sentiment. It's just hard to figure at what point Rep. Kingston and friends actually had "sympathy" for oil companies.

If only Republicans were as troubled and sympathetic to the concept of financial difficulties when voting last April for the Bankruptcy Bill. (And the Democrats who voted for it, as well.)

To deal with the gas crisis, one Republican proposal is a $100 rebate (fancifully referred to, by the linguists who brought you "Mission Accomplished," as a "gas tax holiday"). This will cover that one-tank fill-up for Rep. Kingston's constituents, with $25 left-over for a rainy day. Assuming gas isn't $4 a gallon by the time they cash the check. Happy holiday.

The rebate will "show people that Washington gets it," said Senator Jim Talent (R-Missouri).

If this is what the Show Me State representative thinks it shows, then Missouri needs to change its motto. The $100 kickback will be guzzled up by the very next over-priced tank.

But it's hard to top Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) for his sense of whimsy in blaming "the obstruction of the folks on the other side. (" ie, Democrats.) Apparently, controlling the White House, Senate and House is a burden for passing legislation, as Republicans lay out their November campaign strategy: "Time to Blame Those Not in Charge."

In fairness, Republicans made some reasonable proposals: $3 billion on research for alternative-fuels and hybrid vehicles, along with raising fuel-efficiency standards. That it's taken a public outcry and election fear for Republicans to finally address these issues doesn't make them any less valid. Just behind the curve. Republicans claim this puts them "out front" on the issue. They are "out front" only if you consider the rear of the line the front.

Two other Republican proposals are less-endearing. One is to, again, try to open the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge for drilling. The other is the President temporarily relaxing environmental regulations. Leave it to these troubled, sympathetic souls to turn national adversity into a public screwing and windfall for their interests.

Speaking of windfall, the one area Republicans refuse to address is the Democratic suggestion to cut the windfall profits tax on oil. That gush of relief you heard was Exxon which just announced first quarter profits of $8.4 billion, up 7%. This is the company that gave its outgoing chairman Lee Raymond a retirement package of $400 million.

Still, it's good that Republicans are troubled and sympathetic. Sympathetic to who is another matter. These same oil companies, now causing compassion among Republicans, were in the palms of their hands just five months ago.

In November, 2005, Energy Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) announced he would not require oil executives to testify under oath. When Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) asked for a vote, Stevens vociferously responded, "There will be no vote... It's the decision of the chairman, and I have made that decision."

(It seems this "I am the Decider" thing is big in Republican circles.)

When Cantwell and Barbara Boxer (D-California) pushed the vote, the not-troubled or sympathetic Stevens answered "That's the last we're going to hear about that, because it's out of order. I intend to be respectful of the position that these gentlemen hold."

So, when Republicans cry weepy tears about how troubled and sympathetic they are to Americans in financial straights, they had their chance to show leadership. They've had the chance for five years. Instead, they showed sympathy for "the position these gentleman hold."

Sympathy is flexible, it seems.

As Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) told the oil executives at that November, 2005 hearing, "It's not terribly fun defending you, but I do."

One can only be troubled by and sympathetic for Senator Craig's lack of fun. The rest of the country is stuck with the "terrible" part.