Rising oil prices send lawmakers into frenzy of empty gestures

The American public will take lots of things lying down — inaction on climate change, ill-conceived wars, erosion of civil liberties — but expensive gas? Hell no! With oil prices topping $75 a barrel, gas prices sneaking up on $3 a gallon, and some East Coast gas stations running dry, Americans are demanding demagoguery from their lawmakers, and lawmakers are asking “how high?” Some legislators are pushing for a windfall tax on oil companies; others are calling for inquiries into price gouging; still others want to loosen environmental regulations on gasoline. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), of all people, is complaining about the compensation package of outgoing Exxon honcho Lee Raymond, of all things. Gas types blame the shift from MTBE to ethanol; oil companies blame the market. President Bush says prices are only going to get higher, and there’s not much the government can do about it. When Bush is the voice of reason, you know we’re in a world of trouble.