The House returns from the two-week Spring break today to a modified, limited, election year freak-out over the price of gas.
A budget, extension of tax breaks, pension legislation, lobbying reform, and immigration/border security... all stuck in limbo or limping towards floor consideration over the upcoming five-week stretch leading to the next recess. But when it comes to a pocketbook issue that threatens the birthright of every American to drive where they want when they want, the Congress will respond with alacrity. This is especially true with an election looming in six months.
No one is pretending that much can be done in the short term to lower the price of gas, and a lot of what we are about to hear this week is going to amount to finger pointing over who did -- or didn't do -- what to keep prices down. But House Majority Leader John Boehner, Ohio, has just given us an idea of what he thinks should be considered here in Congress to address the situation, and House committees are outlining future plans to hold hearings on price gouging and oil company profits.
Boehner says that the country needs to conserve more; look at alternative energy sources, and up production by drilling in places like, yes, ANWR. On the alternative fuel front, Boehner touts "biofuels" as "continuing to show promise," and wants to consider further incentives for the development of hydrogen-powered cars. And while he backs the effort to closely scrutinize the profit margins of oil companies, he is dead set against a windfall profits tax. He says that was tried in the 80s and "failed miserably."
Democrats are lining up to claim that Republicans have done nothing to keep gas prices in line. They say they have a plan to empower the FTC to enforce price gouging, roll back the $12 billion in tax breaks and subsidies given to big oil and gas companies in the GOP-passed energy bills, and develop alternative energy sources.
Another issue that will be generating buzz on the House side is committee consideration of a port security bill. On Wednesday, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., will offer a measure that would require every bit of cargo that comes into this country to undergo a security inspection. The vote is expected to be close, with leading business associations here in Washington fighting to defeat the measure. Boehner today declared his opposition, asserting that it's "not practical" to inspect all cargo until new technologies can be implemented. As it stands, less than 10% of cargo entering American ports is inspected.
On the floor, the much-awaited lobby reform bill is slated for consideration. Over the recess the bill was weakened somewhat by Republican leaders, especially around the provisions that deal with the reporting of lobbyists' contact with members.
In terms of actual legislating, the prospects for a lot getting done between now and election day are bleak and getting bleaker. But if you have an interest in politics, the next few months are going to be fascinating as Republicans and Democrats engage in a life and death struggle for control of the House.