Congressional Democrats are still blaming oil companies for high gas prices and are considering legislation that would go after "price gouging" before voters punish lawmakers for inflation at the ballot box this November.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer met Wednesday to discuss ways in which Congress might address rising prices at the pump, according to Bloomberg News. While gas prices have come down since they reached a record high national average of $4.33 per gallon on March 11, the current average of $4.13 per gallon is still significantly more than $2.89, the average last year, according to the American Automobile Association.
Democrats face enormous political pressure to act on the economy as public opinion polling consistently shows inflation is a top issue for voters. Among their ideas is legislation that would increase the Federal Trade Commission's regulatory powers in order to investigate their claims that oil companies are exploiting consumers by keeping prices high to make a profit.
“There is something deeply wrong, deeply wrong, about seeing the largest oil and gas companies in the world drench top executives and wealthy shareholders with cash while Americans are struggling at the pump,” Schumer said Monday in a speech on the Senate floor.
“Democrats are also discussing – and will consider – other potential action to beef up the FTC’s ability to crack down on price gouging in industries, including the oil industry. We will have more to say on this as the week progresses,” he said.
This is the same accusation that President Joe Biden levied against the oil industry last November, when he sent a letter to the FTC asking the regulatory body to investigate "anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies."
The industry responded then as they did now, by accusing Democrats of distracting from the real causes of inflation by using the oil industry as a scapegoat.
“This is an industry of price takers, not price makers, and repeated in-depth investigations by the FTC have shown that changes in gasoline prices are based on market factors and not due to illegal behavior,” said Frank Macchiarola, the senior Vice President of Policy, Economics and Regulatory Affairs at the American Petroleum Institute.
Republicans are unlikely to help Democrats pass any bills that would expand the federal government's regulatory powers. They have instead called on the Biden administration to unleash domestic fossil fuel production, which progressive Democrats concerned about climate change will not endorse.
Another bill Democrats may consider, one that could earn Republican support, is a suspension of the federal gas tax. House Democratic Conference chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday that a gas tax holiday is one of "many" options Democrats are discussing.
“It’s part of the discussion, and the discussion is ongoing,” Jeffries said. "We are definitely going to act to try to address the geopolitical issues that relate to gas prices being where they are [and] act in terms of some of the supply chain challenges.”