Democrats’ flagship legislation to combat record prices at the pump eked out a marginal victory Wednesday, keeping alive leadership’s hope to pass legislation aimed at probing whether Big Oil is manipulating fuel costs.
The full House approved a procedural motion on a bill that would prompt a Federal Trade Commission investigation into fossil fuel corporations.
The probe would determine whether they are, as Democrats claim, price-gouging American drivers and should be penalized for that.
The Democrats’ bill will now face a final-passage vote on Thursday.
But the proposal, marketed by Democratic leaders as the best way to blunt sky-high gasoline prices, remains on life support.
Skepticism and outright opposition from a handful of Democrats who are moderate or hail from energy-producing states threaten to tank Thursday’s expected vote on the measure.
Leadership appeared successful in swaying at least one holdout in their favor, but Democrats can only afford six defectors.
Piling on to Democrats’ woes, gas prices have reached daily all-time highs for more than a week. The national average Wednesday was $4.57 per gallon, according to AAA.
In addition, the right-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a “key vote alert” that it may keep a tally on who supports final passage, a move that could add pressure to Democrats in competitive districts who don’t want to appear anti-business or anti-energy.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Texas Democrat who represents an oil-rich Houston district, said Wednesday she was leaning “yes” after having told The Washington Times the day before that she was undecided.
She did not elaborate on her change in position.
But there remained other opponents over doubts that the legislation would actually curb prices and concerns that its overly broad “price gouging” definitions and investigative powers could hurt small businesses already reeling from staggering inflation.
Leadership continued to whip the vote and conceded they had work left to do before Thursday’s final vote.
“They always give me the problem children,” quipped Rep. Dan Kildee, chief deputy whip for House Democrats. “Within margins, it’s always tough.”
The Michigan Democrat attributed two factors to the opposition among his ranks: confusion and Larry Summers.
“I think there’s maybe some confusion about whether or not we should only be doing something that is going to lower gas prices tomorrow as opposed to just responding to the reality that we need better tools in a moment where there may be a national crisis and companies may or may not be taking advantage of that,” Mr. Kildee said.
Mr. Summers, Treasury secretary under President Clinton and the top economic adviser for President Obama, has once again flexed his influence within the party.
He expressed his disdain for the price gouging legislation in a recent Bloomberg TV interview by labeling it “dangerous nonsense” and comparing it to the “bleach injections” that former President Trump claimed could cure COVID-19.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat who is not seeking reelection, cited Mr. Summers directly when explaining her opposition to the bill.
“It’s really important that we acknowledge what is really driving inflation and not seek to blame others or vilify particular industries,” Ms. Murphy, co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, said Tuesday. “The only way that we are going to provide the American people with real relief on inflation is if we address the main causes of supply and demand.”
Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Texas Democrat who represents a purple district, is also against the measure but has declined to detail her specific objections.
Even if the Democratic-led House approves the legislation Thursday, it is doomed in the split Senate.
No Republicans are expected to vote for it, meaning the upper chamber’s 60-vote threshold will not be reached.
Still, the Senate will hold a messaging vote on the legislation regardless of what happens in the House, said Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
Democratic leaders want to use the episode to highlight differences between how the two parties think inflation at the pump should be tackled.
Republicans have capitalized on bloated gas prices since they began to steadily rise last year.
They have called for President Biden and his administration to “unleash American energy” by rolling back some of the environmental regulations on fossil fuels and reverse course on the cancellation of oil and natural gas projects.
But energy analysts and oil executives have noted that a global supply shortage coming out of the pandemic, coupled with the world trying to ditch Russian energy over its war against Ukraine, is not an easy fix.
Those Republican-backed policy solutions also are long-term ideas. But Sen. Lisa Murkowski said one move that could make an immediate difference would be for Mr. Biden to alter his rhetoric, which could boost industry confidence and spur investment in production.
“That can be immediate. That signal can make a difference,” the Alaska Republican said. “All it would take is President Biden to stand in front of the microphone and say, ‘given what is happening in this country, the unprecedented place we are at today, the impact on everyday Americans, I’ve got an obligation to say Americans are going to come first and American energy production is going to come first.’”