Congressional Democrats are expected to announce their plan to counter the rising cost of gasoline as early as next Wednesday, and despite the pressure Sen. Hillary Clinton is putting on her congressional colleagues, it’s not likely to include a “gas tax holiday.”
The plan being worked up by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and a team of Democratic senators will be focused instead on long-term solutions, according to Bill Wicker, spokesperson for Bingaman, chair the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
“I think the overall frame of the Democratic bill is to try to get at the root causes of a price increase,” said Wicker. “Everyone acknowledges that there’s very little you can do in the near term to reduce gasoline prices, but there are steps that can be taken now that will help set the stage for reducing gasoline prices down the road.”
Though senators are keeping a tight wrap on the specifics of the legislation, Wicker said the bill is likely to include a temporary suspension of the build-up of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (a move also contained in the Republican bill), as well as mechanisms to stop market manipulation by oil traders and discourage speculative trading in oil and gas markets. It’s unclear whether the legislation will include a “windfall-profits tax” on oil companies, though it has been rumored that it could include a tax of up to 25 percent. It’s also unclear how the revenue from such a tax would be used. In discussions this week, some advocated rebates for consumers while others wanted to see the funds invested in renewable-energy R&D.
Senate Republicans introduced their plan for gas-price relief yesterday, which includes, not all that surprisingly, a proposal to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. It’s sponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It’s a move that fellow New Mexico senator Bingaman vehemently opposes, as he told the Albuquerque Journal yesterday: “I think the decision on ANWR should not be made in response to an immediate increase in the price of gas, I think it should be made in response to the long-term judgment of the country. So far, the Congress has voted not to open it, and that’s been my position.”
Said Wicker, “I think there’s broad agreement across Congress, both Democrat and Republican, that there’s precious little that can be done in the near term.”