Pat Butler: Congress rides to rescue as gas prices soar |

Pat Butler: Congress rides to rescue as gas prices soar

For those of my generation and older, we remember a day when we could count on heroes. A Superman, Batman, Lone Ranger, Rin-Tin-Tin or Dirty Harry was always there to save the day at the very last moment.

But now we’ve grown up and learned that we need to rely on the current generation of politicians to solve our problems. And the news this week demonstrates yet again that we have no heroes in Washington, just prolific fund-raisers.

The Census Bureau reports that in 2005 more than 40 percent of Americans did not have health insurance at some point during the year. And if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, pray you don’t experience a catastrophic illness or you will likely be inquiring about the new bankruptcy laws that tend to favor the lenders.

A bipartisan Senate panel releases a stinging report that essentially calls FEMA a disaster. “Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared” is the third report that states the obvious. Yet those same senators say nothing can be done to fix the agency before hurricane season starts on June 1.

But will we have time for another report?

Iran and the United States continue to engage in saber-rattling. Iran thumbs its nose when we raise concerns about its nuclear program, which leaves one wondering if yet another invasion is imminent.

Our national debt continues to climb, Social Security is still on track to become an endangered species and we’re dumb-founded after paying income taxes that will likely be siphoned off into well-heeled lawmakers’ pork accounts.

And, of course, nothing substantial is happening with campaign reform, a fact that should not surprise anyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the past 20 years.

Nonetheless, our elected leaders could give two hoots about those problems and issues.

Gasoline prices, which have again skyrocketed to the $3 a gallon level, are suddenly a source of alarm in Washington. This is the second time since Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast that gasoline prices have started to seriously hurt hard-working Americans.

Lawmakers, who just got back to work after a couple weeks off, were able to blame the hurricane for the previous price spike. Now, however, there’s no natural disaster that we can see coming for three days to blame.

Consequently, the lawmakers, like our fictional heroes of yesteryear, are rushing to the rescue.

The Republican leadership in the Senate has proposed with great enthusiasm a $100 fuel-cost rebate for embattled taxpayers. How insulting. If we sell out for pennies on the dollar, then we will prove again that we are easy marks for the politicians. Heck, Lee Raymond, the Exxon CEO who recently received the $400 million pension, could probably foot most of the bill himself and still build a castle.

Besides, if we don’t get the money from Raymond, where will it come from? The last time I checked we were financing the war in Iraq by borrowing billions of dollars. Oh, that’s where they will get it. I’d rather borrow the money directly from my son than have our government borrow the money from a country like China and then have future generations stuck with yet another government-sponsored bill.

And finally there’s a catch to the big $100 rebate. As part of this exciting one-time cash offer, the Republicans want to drill in the Alaskan wildlife refuge, which is something they’ve wanted to do for years anyway.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, want to lift the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gasoline tax for two months. Goodness, how naive can they be? You know the oil companies will raise their prices to capture that margin. The oil tycoons just raised gasoline prices by at least 20 cents per gallon in the past two weeks. And what did we do? We bought more gasoline. It can and will happen again.

Meanwhile, House Republicans, which would include our own Rep. John Doolittle, have rejected a measure that would have required oil companies to pay $5 billion more in taxes. That vote came on the same day that Exxon Mobil Corp. reported profits of $8 billion in the first quarter of this year, the fifth largest quarterly profit ever for a public company.

But why ask them to pay more taxes? This is a “free” market economy after all.

President Bush ruled out Friday supporting any windfall profits tax on an oil industry that can’t count its revenue fast enough, saying it will undermine research and development efforts. The oil monopoly also needs that money to overpay their top executives. They also need money for campaign contributions, which are getting quite costly as well.

Despite the flurry of activity this week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said we’re essentially stuck with high gasoline prices for a while.

Is anyone surprised?

If we want to see heroes in action, we need to turn to the television reruns. Whether by acts of commission or omission, we have created a monster in Washington, D.C., that serves only one master: Money.

Now, let’s resume our arguments about who is liberal and who is conservative. That’s what is really important after all.


Pat Butler is the editor of The Union. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 477-4235.

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