In one of the most laughable stunts ever to come out of the House Republican leadership, Minority Leader John Boehner and his minions are labeling the recent stratospheric rise in gasoline prices "the Pelosi premium." The fumes from their oil company friends have finally gotten to them.
There is no credible case to be made that Democrats in general, and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi in particular, is responsible for the perfect storm that is bringing $4 per gallon gasoline to a gas pump near you. But Republicans, perhaps taking a cue from their standard-bearer Sen. John McCain, aren’t much into being coherent these days, and so there was Boehner at the Capitol on Wednesday, issuing a statement reminiscent of the smolder and toxic smoke of his trademark cigarettes:
Across the country, while families are preparing for their summer vacations and travel plans, they are doing so with the black cloud of the Pelosi Premium hanging over their heads. Americans are paying an additional $1.48 per gallon of gasoline today compared to the price they were paying when Democrats took control of Congress.
Actually, if we rolled the clock all the way back to when President Bush took control of the White House in 2001 and the Republicans had rock-solid majorities in both houses of Congress, Americans are now paying roughly $2.33 more per gallon of gasoline than they were then—or perhaps as much as $2.50 more, as I noticed hours after Boehner’s tirade as I drove past gas stations in the nation’s capital. Granted, that still makes the bulk of the increase coincident with Pelosi’s term as speaker, but not even Republicans can trash an economy overnight. We’re reaping the fruit of seven years of conservative favoritism toward the oil industry and outright obstruction of meaningful treatment efforts for an oil addiction even President Bush admitted the nation had.
You can fool some of the people, but there are certain things a majority of the American public will not easily forget. It was Vice President Dick Cheney who in 2001 convened a secret cabal of energy executives who together crafted the administration’s energy policyand then, in a patronizing bit of showmanship, the White House invited a token group of environmentalists in for a show and tell after the details were set in stone. It was also Cheney who famously said that conservation "may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."
It was the same White House who refused to push the American auto industry to increase its fuel efficiency, claiming that doing so would do irreparable harm to the industry, only to see the Japanese auto industry do what may prove to be irreparable harm to the American auto industry by making the fuel-efficient cars that the American Big Three said they couldn’t make, and if they did make, couldn’t sell.
It was the Bush administration that slashed Department of Energy programs to promote conservation, efficiency and renewable energy sources in virtually every budget it sent to Congress, and the Republican majority in Congress did not lift a finger in defiance. Then, when Pelosi and her party took over control of the House, it was Senate conservatives, at Bush’s behest, who used parliamentary tactics to kill legislation — supported by a majority in both houses — that would have required 15 percent of our electricity to come from renewable sources. The administration and Senate conservatives continue to block the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008.
Lawmakers who brandish this notion of a "Pelosi premium" should ask what happened to the multibillion-dollar tax breaks the oil companies got from Congress in 2004 that were supposed to unleash a new wave of exploration and domestic supply that would lower prices and wean us off foreign oil. Months later, President Bush sent to Congress a $353 million budget for renewable energy initiatives in the Department of Energy, a 5.6 percent cut. Then, a few months after President Bush said that oil companies didn’t need new tax incentives at a time of $60-a-barrel oil, he signed into law $5 billion in additional oil company tax breaks.
It was no surprise to anyone that the day would come when countries such as China and India would develop the same insatiable thirst for oil the United States has had for decades. Yet every time the Bush administration had an opportunity to prepare the nation for an era in which gasoline would not be cheap, it turned its back, literally passing the bucks to an already overstuffed oil industry.
In 2004, when a six-year highway and public transit funding bill was moving through Congress, a bipartisan group of lawmakers endorsed a nickel increase in the 18.4-cent-per-gallon federal gasoline tax. The extra money was to be used to fix traffic choke points and beef up mass transit systems. The White House and congressional conservatives—Boehner among them—responded in unison as if to say, "You can’t raise taxes. That would be sinful."
Besides, they said, think of the hardship that working families would face if they had to pay an extra nickel for a gallon of gas so some other poor schlub could get a subsidized bus ride to work.
Well, here we are four years later. That gas tax is still 18.4 cents per gallon-unchanged (except for a tenth-of-a-penny drop in 1996 and 1997) since 1993, by the way. The nickel hike in the tax would have been nothing compared to the more than $2 a gallon that’s been added to the average cost of a tank of gas since then. The price of gasoline is, predictably, is turning increasing numbers of drivers into poor schlubs who flood chronically underfunded public bus and rail systems. (And while that is creating one problem, it is making a tiny dent in road traffic just as the federal government is running out of money in the trust fund it uses to maintain and expand the highway system.)
The Republican "change you deserve" is more of the same—more coddling of Big Oil, more strip mining for coal and for nuclear plants, more deregulation, more usurping of environmental protections in the name of feeding the nation’s energy thirst, and—lest we forget—more marketing of conservation as a "personal virtue."
The right, though, finds itself backed into a corner, bad-mouthing what the American people actually are calling for from their leadership: a dramatic shift away from the environmental and geopolitical perils of a fossil-fuel economy toward a public-private collaboration for a green energy future. That’s the kind of "Pelosi premium" we could use a full tank of.