“The bill’s title is duplicitous because the bill content does not deliver the promise the title makes.”
There is that old saying in Washington that, for many issues, there is the story behind the matter and then there is the version released to the public. Similarly the titling of bills can be less about the bill’s content and more about gaining support on the title alone. Such appears to be the case with HR 4899, the title of which promises lower gas prices at the pump.
HR 4899 is a complicated bill in the sense that it incorporates five House bills but sorting through those proposals one is hard pressed to find the part where the price of gas at the pump goes down.
The question the bill title raises about lowering gasoline prices is, “How?” and the answer offered is in the bill’s explanation of itself “To lower gasoline prices for the American family by increasing domestic onshore and offshore energy exploration and production…” The ‘public story’ the bill and its title offers is that if we increase ‘domestic onshore and offshore energy exploration and production’ the price of gasoline will go down but the real story is that under the bill we may allow more drilling (to include the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska) and nothing more than that.
While the bill title and content suggest that more available oil and gas would, by market forces, lower the cost to the consumer that is not likely if we consider the hydro-fracking extraction techniques used in leases throughout the country that have produced a natural gas glut but the price of the stuff has not fallen. Equally, domestic oil production is up and gas prices remain unchanged.
The bill’s title is duplicitous because the bill content does not deliver the promise the title makes.
While HR 4899 will not, on its own, lower gas and gasoline prices to the consumer, it could. Congress would have to do two things it seems, considering the absence of legislation to do so, Congress wants to avoid doing; it would have to recognize that the US has enough resources to become an energy exporter giving us a larger role in the world marketing and pricing of those commodities. The second is to set a cap on the price of gas and gasoline to US consumers and assure that the price would be lower than what the global markets would charge. There is a clear justification for this; the resources are being drawn from public land so the public should benefit.
The results of the US taking a global role and capping energy prices to US consumers would be a significant shot in the arm for those individual Americans and the Nation; lower fuel prices leaves more money in the pocket of the consumers and could lower the cost of many consumer goods transported by gasoline or diesel power. The use of natural gas by utilities to produce electricity should lower the cost of that energy to the consumer simply because it would cost the utilities less to generate it. And, if done right the increase in revenues from exports and sales could produce a significant revenue stream to the Treasury.
It should be noted that another bill the House passed this week, HR 6, does lean in the right direction as stated in the bill report “Although the economic benefits of LNG exports are significant, they may be exceeded by the geopolitical benefits. By becoming a natural gas exporter, the U.S. can supplant the influence of other exporters, like Russia and Iran, while strengthening ties with our allies and trading partners around the world. U.S. LNG also can help the developing world by providing a much-needed source of affordable energy, and offer those countries pursuing environmental objectives the option of using clean-burning natural gas.” Once again, though, the bill pitches that outcome particularly as a tool for foreign policy to help developing countries but gives no factual details on how American energy consumers will actually benefit from a US energy export status.
The House Majority position on these consumer issues was most evident when an effort in the interest of consumers was made in the motion to recommit the bill, the last chance to amend the bill before vote on final passage. The motion would require “…that any lease issued pursuant to the underlying bill specify that crude oil or natural gas produced under such lease may be exported only if the Secretary of the Interior determines that exporting such commodities will not increase the price of gasoline or home heating oil for American consumers.” The motion failed 177 to 235.
The Lesson Congress Should Learn from the VA Scandal
By Lee H. Hamilton
“Congress is proposing dramatic changes that could have benefited from more thorough consideration.”
Like other federal scandals before it, the mess involving VA hospitals has followed a well-trod path. First comes the revelation of misdoing. Then comes the reaction: a shocked public, an administration on the defensive, grandstanding members of Congress. Finally, major reform bills get introduced, debated, then put aside when the heat dies down, or the target agency gets more money thrown at the problem.
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.