by Jordan Zakarin
With gas prices hitting a national average of $4.05, Senate Republicans worked to provide a measure of relief for the pump, blocking a Democratic plan to revoke $17 billion in tax cuts for oil companies over ten years and place a $0.25 tax on windfall gas profits, which, along with skyrocketing oil prices, have crippled the nation’s drivers and sent ripples throughout the economy.
“Listen, we understand that we’re in a bit of an economic rut, that people are struggling,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “But, as members of a greater American community, it’s just not right to focus that ire on the most vulnerable, destitute of our citizens.”
Texas Senator John Conryn echoed McConnell’s plea, saying that “to strip the oil companies of their $17 billion in tax cuts, to force a surcharge on them unless they invest in alternative energy that could save our economy — please, let’s look inside ourselves to find a little bit of kindness and compassion for the people on the fringes of our society.”
The Senate Republicans’ actions earned the approval of advocates for the poor oil executives, who had been loudly voicing their concerns to GOP lawmakers in grassroots demonstrations in budget hotels such as the Four Seasons and lunch counters such as the restaurant Signatures. The grassroots oil lobbyists were successful in tugging on the GOP heart strings, prompting the party’s leaders to turn an about face on their usual strict positions on welfare programs.
“As a general rule, we’re diametrically opposed to giving handouts of any sort to anyone with a beating pulse, no matter how faint. But those heartfelt activists really showed us something with their enthusiasm and passion, rallying the masses behind them,” said Missouri Senator Kit Bond. “They appealed to our better angels, and so we finally agreed to give a little.”
Amongst the gut wrenching tales of downtrodden oil executives told during the events put on by the grassroots advocates, a few were particularly effective in helping to sway the normally tight fisted Republican lawmakers.
The stories of Ted Hartner and Ivan E. Fowler, executives at Exxon-Mobil, struck a major chord with the GOP. Confronted with the constant uncertainty of how high they could push their prices and just how much they could manipulate the supply of gasoline, two two executives suffered unfamiliar mental anguish and uncertainty, later to be officially diagnosed by doctors as acute stress.
As their plight worsened, the advocates said, they began to suffer from lost sleep as Congress began debating raising mandatory fuel standards in small increments over the next twenty years.
“They’ve been through so much — it’s really only right to give them some small modicum of hope,” John Thune of South Dakota said.
While Democrats insist that the windfall tax could have been avoided by oil companies had they reinvested those profits into researching desperately needed alternative energy sources and technology, McConnell said that missed the point.
“We’re in a time of national crisis here, and it really isn’t the time to start pointing fingers and demagoguing, blaming the weakest amongst us. That’s just not something that should happen in politics, you know?”