Democrat Big Oil “Price-Gouging” Bills Advance In Congress

“I’m not familiar with all of the details of that legislation,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “But what I can tell you from an administration perspective is that there is guidance going out to crack down on price gouging where we see it.”

Ok, so, where does the administration see this mysterious “price gouging” Mr. Buttigieg, President Biden and prominent Democratic members of congress keep accusing “Big Oil” of engaging in? So far, none of them are providing any specifics. That, of course, is likely because they haven’t found any such thing happening, just as they have never found a prosecutable case of industry “price gouging” in this century.

It’s just “cheap talk,” as Washington Post columnist Catherine Rample wrote last week, an easy chance to demagogue against an easy target to try to convince voters they are “doing something” to address the nation’s out-of-control inflation problem in advance of the mid-term elections in November. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her fellow Democrats will vote this week on H.R. 7688, the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, a bill that would provide beefed-up powers to the Federal Trade Commission to penalize oil companies if they can somehow prove the company is unfairly inflating the price of gas or other petroleum-based fuels. As Politico noted Monday, even the Democrats admit it’s a bill that would have no impact, purely designed as a political message to influence potential voters.

Over in the Senate, similar political shenanigans are taking place. Last week, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) introduced a bill they call the Price Gouging Prevention Act of 2022. This bill bans “price-gouging,” which it nebulously defines as “unconscionably excessive” pricing that takes place during “an exceptional market shock.”

What is that, you ask? The senators provide a similarly nebulous and somewhat convoluted definition: An “exceptional market shock” means “any change or imminently threatened (as determined under guidance issued by the Commission) change in the market for a good or service resulting from a natural disaster, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, strike, civil disorder, war, military action, national or local emergency, public health emergency, or any other cause of an atypical disruption in such market.”


For her own part, Senator Warren has been very outspoken about her belief that gasoline prices at the pump are only rising because the evil “big oil” companies are greedy, or what Rample refers to as the Democratic Party conspiracy theory of “greedflation.” Of course, it is a fairly simple logical construct to build a case that corporations are indeed “greedy.” They do, after all, exist to make a profit, don’t they? Well, most of them exist for that reason, anyway.

The point is that building this construct is good politics, regardless of whether the legislation makes any real sense or not from a public policy perspective. Pelosi will certainly be able to keep her Democratic caucus in line to pass HR 7688 out of the House, but the bill will have essentially no Republican support and its future in the Senate will depend entirely on whether or not West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is willing to sign onto it and its’ specious, anti-energy narrative. That seems doubtful.

By the same token, Manchin will most likely decide the fate of the Warren/Baldwin effort in the Senate, meaning it most likely will never reach the House for a vote. But the sponsors of these bills really don’t much care, because it’s the narrative that matters to them, not the policy.

So, Sec. Buttigieg and other Biden officials will be able to keep appearing on “Face the Nation” or another of the myriad Sunday political talk shows, where they can keep promising to “crack down” on whatever definition of “price-gouging” the administration and congressional Democrats pick on any given week, wherever they can find it. The foregone conclusion that they will never be able to find it, and really won’t even try, isn’t important. The narrative is the only thing that matters.

What a terrible way to run a country.

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